The FBI is officially looking into the activities of St. Joseph, Missouri installer U.S. Solar and Trevor Dryden, its owner.
Two independent sources have confided to GTM that FBI agents told them the investigation covers 30 or more alleged fraud complaints against U.S. Solar.
Dryden did not respond to attempts to contact him. A U.S. Solar representative said the allegations were untrue but would not comment further.
An ethics complaint to the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association (MOSEIA) from Richard Sharp, a military and insurance industry retiree, documented:
- Mr. Sharp’s signed application for an 8.46-kilowatt system from U.S. Solar
- An application from U.S. Solar to utility Kansas City Power and Light for a 16.45-kilowatt system for Mr. Sharp and for the $32,100 rebate it would earn directed for delivery to U.S. Solar
- Mr. Sharp’s U.S. Solar-installed 8.45-kilowatt system
- A cashed $32,100 KCP&L rebate check that did not get to Mr. Sharp
Mr. Sharp said his system was composed of Centrosolar modules and an SMA inverter. He first became concerned because its output was not impacting his utility bills.
“His house is not good for solar and we would never have sold him a system,” said Adam Blake, CEO of Brightergy, one of three installers Sharp asked to independently assess his system. “His roof has a significant amount of shaded panels and a lot of exposed wires,” Blake said. “To do it right, it would have to be reinstalled.”
Mr. Sharp said he told U.S. Solar’s sales representative he would not proceed with the installation if he had to cut down his shade tree. “A couple of days later,” Mr. Sharp remembered, “he called and told me their engineers said everything would be fine.”
Mr. Sharp also obtained references for two local, U.S. Solar-installed systems but found out later they were too new for the owners, Roderick Signs and Crawford Construction, to know if their performance was satisfactory.
“I don’t blame this on solar,” Sharp said. “I happened to pick a bad installer.”
That bad installer may have far-reaching impacts on Missouri solar if it turns out the alleged fraud was widespread enough to expend KCP&L’s rebates.
KCP&L asked the PSC on May 28 to suspend its rebate program. The filing reported it had reached the cap written into the 2008 legislation prohibiting rebates from costing more than 1 percent of ratepayer bills, or $21 million at the utility’s current customer base.
“It is likely that U.S. Solar’s rebate abuses contributed to KCP&L’s reaching the $21 million cap,” acknowledged MOSEIA Executive Director Heidi Schoen.
Susan Brown, a Brightergy Public Affairs VP and SEIA/MOSEIA representative, acknowledged acting as a “subject matter expert” in the FBI investigation.
MOSEIA now wants the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) to do a full investigation, she added. “We need to determine the extent of U.S. Solar’s bad practices and how much they might have impacted the rebate program.”
KCP&L acknowledged publicly it is cooperating with the FBI investigation and has taken steps to stop U.S. Solar.
“We began auditing U.S. Solar projects last year and communicated with both U.S. Solar and its customers about deficiencies and corrections that needed to be made,” KCP&L spokesperson Katie McDonald said in an email.
“Projects currently in our queue with U.S. Solar will not be affected. However, these projects may be subject to additional inspection to ensure the final installation is consistent with the application before any rebate is issued,” McDonald added.