Once a shining star of the solar energy world, this entrepreneur is tied down with penalties – The Dallas Morning News

Only a few short years ago, Abe Issa was a star of the solar energy world.

As the owner of Fort Worth-based solar energy companies, Issa was building an industry-leading profile as owner of some of the fastest-growing businesses in North Texas.

In 2015, he promised a gift of $500,000 to Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business to build the Abe Issa Field Sales Lab. Issa graduated from TCU.

The money never came through, and the sales lab was never built. That’s a good thing for TCU because Issa’s companies have broken so many sales rules that the Texas attorney general investigated.

Things got so rough with complaining customers and awful online reviews of his businesses that Issa had to change the names of his companies.

It didn’t help. The attorney general went after both the old companies and the new ones.

In 2018, Issa’s companies agreed to pay $3 million in penalties and restitution to customers who were promised huge savings on their electricity bills if they switched to Issa’s products. Often, those promised savings never materialized.

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Update on Abe Issa

I have to credit Alan Oldfield, an 84-year-old music composer from Bedford, for turning my attention back to Issa.

Alan Oldfield, 84, in the attic of his Bedford home. Oldfield said he was taken advantage of by Abe Issa's solar energy company into taking out a loan to pay for a weatherization project on Oldfield's home.
Alan Oldfield, 84, in the attic of his Bedford home. Oldfield said he was taken advantage of by Abe Issa’s solar energy company into taking out a loan to pay for a weatherization project on Oldfield’s home.(Lynda M. Gonzalez / Staff Photographer)

I last looked at Issa’s business dealings in 2016, when I profiled a Duncanville man who claimed he lost money when he bought Issa’s salesman’s promise that his electric bills would drop significantly with his new solar panels. They didn’t. The man figured he saved $177 in one year with the panels. He took out an $18,000 loan to pay for the setup. At that rate, he’d break even in 93 years.

Recently, Oldfield sent me a note about Issa. The composer wrote lots of letters. He sent letters to the Texas attorney general, as well as the attorneys general in states where Issa’s companies have expanded.

He complained about Issa to the Better Business Bureau and and also to officials at TCU’s business school.

But his most important letters were sent to the bank that financed his loan with Issa’s company to pay for the weatherization project on his home. Oldfield committed to paying $11,500 for the work. But as with other customers, his electric bills barely dropped, he told me. That’s when he launched his protest.

He wrote to the bank leaders, including members of the bank’s board of directors. I’ll explain how that worked for him in a moment. But first I want to show you what the Texas AG says Issa’s company did wrong.

He’s not talking now

In 2016, Issa told me he in an interview that he ordered his sales people to stop promising that electric bills would drop significantly. Promises were unreliable, he told me, because customers’ lifestyles affect their electricity usage.

Abe Issa, a solar energy company CEO, promised his college, Texas Christian University, a $500,000 donation to create an Abe Issa Field Sales Lab. The money never came through.
Abe Issa, a solar energy company CEO, promised his college, Texas Christian University, a $500,000 donation to create an Abe Issa Field Sales Lab. The money never came through.(David Woo / Staff Photographer)

His problems stemmed from his sales reps who were independent, he said, working on commissions. He didn’t have enough control over them, he said.

“We don’t want to be taken advantage of,” he told me four years ago. “But we don’t want the homeowner to feel like they are taken advantage of either.”

This week, I couldn’t reach Issa, despite voice messages, an email request, and chats with one of his lawyers and one of his company directors.

The company sent me a statement by email about Issa’s new company: “Envirosolar is a top-15 national residential solar company with the highest compliance measures in place. Every customer goes through a diligent quality control process, including a recorded call at the point of sale to ensure complete understanding of the financing and project details.

“Further, every agreement is reviewed for accuracy before the final design process is started. From the initial meeting, through install, and beyond, all communication between customers and our customer service team is recorded for quality control purposes.”

In a brief phone interview, company director Nathan Greving told me: “We have the best compliance in the industry. We have quality control on every customer who comes in. Very strict compliance standards. Making sure customers understand the full details of what they’re getting.”

Both statements left out why they do this. Thanks to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, they have no choice.

Many companies cited

Give Paxton’s consumer division credit for its handling of Issa’s companies. There were two lawsuits in 2018.

The first lawsuit was against Issa’s original companies, before their names changed: Global Efficient Energy, Energy Stars, Global NRG, Fort EPC and Solar Pow.

The final agreement prohibits those companies from doing business in Texas. The companies agreed to pay a $2.3 million judgment, with $1.9 million of that going to aggrieved consumers.

The second lawsuit was against Issa’s new companies — EnviroSolar, E-Grid Tech, EnviSolar, Next Step Energy and KMA Investments. In the voluntary order, Issa agreed to pay the state $700,000 and promised to enact strict protocols to create what his director told me is “the best compliance in the industry.”

Issa had no choice. If you read all the promises of good behavior in the settlement, you get an idea of the bad behavior that preceded it.

Customers must now get copies of sales agreements.

They must be properly informed about ways they can cancel.

Sales staff must be upfront about who they represent when they knock on doors.

They must be honest about prices, tax credits, rebates and discounts. They must be honest about product certifications, too.

Here’s what worked

The deadline to get a piece of that $3 million passed last year. Unfortunately, Oldfield never heard about the two cases until I showed them to him.

But he did OK on his own.

Turns out that not only does Oldfield write music for TV shows and movies. He also writes a darn good protest letter.

He originally spent $11,500 on weather insulation inside his home (no solar panels). His complaint letters to the bank and its board of directors paid off. Big time.

The bank agreed to write off the remaining $7,500 on his loan. He doesn’t have to pay it.

“I was pretty lucky,” the composer told me. “I didn’t know what to do, but the letters turned out to be the thing.”

More information on solar energy

If you’re considering getting solar panels or embarking on a home weatherization project, get multiple quotes from various companies.

Beware of claims of dramatic savings on your electric bill, which solar energy users still receive.

Learn the difference between leasing and owning the panels.

Find out what the rules are, if any, in your subdivision or city for sale of a house with panels on the roof.

And here are two useful websites:

FTC’s Solar Power tips — www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0532-solar-power-your-home

Own Your Power! — www.energy.gov/eere/downloads/own-your-power-consumer-guide-solar-electricity-home-brochure

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Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/watchdog/2020/01/23/once-a-shining-star-of-the-solar-energy-world-this-entrepreneur-is-tied-down-with-penalties/

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