Solar panel companies, lenders sued for defrauding Minnesotans

Minnesota homeowners who purchased solar panels from different companies found the deal to be not as sunny as they were sold after being tricked into signing contracts and loan agreements, a new lawsuit alleges. 

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today a lawsuit filed in Hennepin County District Court against four Utah-based solar-panel sales companies and three company executives for engaging in deceptive and fraudulent practices in marketing and selling residential solar panel systems that cost Minnesota homeowners anywhere from $20,000 to $55,000. The lawsuit also takes aim at several lenders that partnered with the solar companies to finance the purchases and assumed liability for consumers’ claims and defenses.   

Named in the lawsuit is Brio Energy LLC, Bello Solar Energy, Avolta Power, Inc. (formerly Brio which changed its name to Bello, then Avolta as its sales practices came under scrutiny around the country), and Sunny Solar Utah, as well as, company executives Jared Fager, Michael Kaelin and Alan Whitaker, plus lenders Goodleap LLC, Sunlight Financial, LLC and Corning Credit Union Services Company, LLC. 

"I’m suing these companies because they’ve taken advantage of Minnesotans’ good intentions to save some money for their families and create a cleaner environment for everyone," Ellison said in a statement. "This is a shameful scam that hurt both Minnesota families and legitimate companies in the solar industry. The recent rapid growth of solar energy in Minnesota is good, and I encourage Minnesotans who think it might be right for them to do their research and ask questions. Holding bad actors like these accountable helps every legitimate solar-panel company and every homeowner that wants to save money, improve their home, and do right by the environment." 

A home with a solar panel on its roof in Eagan, Minnesota. 

The lawsuit alleges the solar companies deceived consumers in Minnesota by using Xcel’s logo in advertisements, communicating from deceptive emails and calling their salespeople "energy consultants" and "energy educators" when in fact their sole purpose was to sell solar panels.     

The solar companies also misrepresented the cost savings and other benefits associated with their solar panels, urging consumers to "STOP relying on the grid" and falsely promising that they would never receive another electricity bill once panels were installed.

Consumers signed into binding sales contracts and loan agreements under the guise of them being legal documents needed to determine solar suitability, check consumers’ credit or communicate with utilities companies. However, when homeowners tried to cancel their contracts, the companies threatened them with thousands of dollars in termination fees, collection efforts, lawsuits and liens.  

For those consumers who had solar panels installed, the panels were often not connected to the utility grid as promised, did not always work, and did not generate the utility-bill savings or tax credits that were promised. Often homeowners were forced to start paying back the loans they contracted to install the panels before the panels were working.