Attorney General Neronha files new claims in lawsuit against residential solar panel company for deceptive sales practices
Office’s ongoing investigation into Smart Green Solar and its CEO uncovers additional dishonest practices as AG continues to warn consumers against solar industry scams
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha today announced the Office has filed a motion to amend and supplement the Office’s complaint against Smart Green Solar, LLC (Smart Green) and its CEO Jasjit Gotra for violating the Rhode Island Deceptive Trade Practice Act (DTPA) by engaging in a pattern of unfair and deceptive trade practices targeting Rhode Island consumers of residential solar panels. The proposed amended complaint builds on the allegations the Office made in June 2023, identifies additional, previously unknown patterns of alleged illegal conduct, and adds two more company executives – Christopher Schiavone and George Nixon – as individually-named defendants.
As alleged in the initial complaint, Smart Green engaged in a pattern of deceptive and unfair trade practices as they went door-to-door, making unsolicited sales pitches for residential solar panel systems in Rhode Island. The Attorney General sought a court order requiring Smart Green to stop misleading customers, provide paper contracts to customers immediately, and pay restitution to injured customers.
Attorney General Neronha continues to warn consumers about misleading practices in the solar industry. Consumers interested in learning more about safely purchasing residential solar panels for their home should visit the Attorney General’s dedicated website.
“In response to our suit against Smart Green Solar in June, the Office received an influx of new information from employees and consumers; information which supported and built upon our allegations. Simply put, we continue to believe that the defendants deceived and took financial advantage of Rhode Islanders who wanted to support our state’s clean energy transition,” said Attorney General Peter Neronha. “With this amended complaint, we continue our work to both hold the defendants accountable and make sure they do right by Rhode Island consumers going forward. Businesses that deceive consumers for profit should heed this lawsuit as a warning; our Consumer Protection Unit continues to grow in size and talent, and we will weed out companies that don’t play by the rules.”
Since the Office began investigating Smart Green, the Office has received more than 55 complaints regarding the company and has conducted interviews with a number of former employees. New information obtained from these complaints and interviews has provided further support for the Office’s original allegations but also forms the basis for the new allegations in the amended complaint.
- As alleged in the amended complaint, Smart Green offers new customers a $1,000 “sign-up” bonus and $1,000 for each person they refer, but does not disclose that they actually charge their customers for these incentives. As alleged, every customer who receives a “sign-up” bonus pays for their own bonus when they are charged an extra $1,000 over the base price for their system. As further alleged, if a customer did refer a friend or family member, Smart Green likely charged that friend or family member an extra $1,000 on top of what their system would have cost in order to pay the referrer a bonus.
- Another new allegation asserts that Smart Green promises transparent and “integrity-based pricing” but refuses to disclose to consumers how they came up with its system prices, allowing the company to hide financing charges and the aforementioned “bonus” payment charges. Smart Green also allegedly hides pricing information from its own employees, making it impossible for employees to explain to customers what they are truly paying for. Additionally, the company allegedly tells consumers that it cannot create itemized invoices, which is false.
- Finally, the updated complaint alleges that the company unfairly dissuades customers from signing up for other government incentives because it slows down the installation timeline, delaying when Smart Green gets paid. This practice would harm consumers who otherwise may be able to save thousands of dollars if the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund program were properly explained and offered.
Building on previous allegations
In the updated complaint, the Office of the Attorney General reasserts previously made allegations, supplemented with information obtained from new complainants and former employees.
- Tax Credits: Many new consumer complaints support what the Office alleged in the first complaint – customers are promised tax credits they may not receive.
- Training practices: Company salespeople and newly reviewed documents provide more information on exactly how the company allegedly trains employees. Salespeople confirmed that they were trained to misdescribe federal tax credits as “down payments,” essentially promise consumers they would receive a check from the government, and present customers with prices that were discounted as if the tax credit were guaranteed.
- Potential Savings/Electricity Production: The amended complaint identifies additional advertisements where Smart Green promises or guarantees savings or a certain level electricity production, including offering customers “no cost solar.” Additionally, a former employee explained how Smart Green’s internal systems may estimate a lower rate of electricity production than promised, and that they will not disclose the discrepancy to the consumer unless the difference exceeds 20% per year.
- Cancellation policy/copies of contracts: The Office builds on a previous allegation claiming that salespeople are allegedly trained to rush through the contracting process and allegedly trained to withhold the company’s cancellation policy.
The proposed amended complaint also seeks additional injunctive relief from the Court, including requiring the company to provide consumers with itemized invoices, permanent prohibitions on charging customers in connection with bonus payments, and an order banning Defendants Gotra and Schiavone from the consumer sales industry in Rhode Island. Mr. Gotra is already banned from engaging in nearly all outbound telemarketing pursuant to a court order in a separate case.