KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Kevin Jones was excited about getting a 14-kilowatt solar system installed at his Kingsport home when he borrowed $93,000 from Sunlight Financial and welcomed a company called Pink Energy to do the work in August 2020.

“I wanted to do something to leave things better for my grandkids and try to take a little bit of stress off the grid, so solar energy sounded like a good way to do that,” the retired Navy electrician told News Channel 11 Wednesday.

Jones expected his two solar arrays to produce enough juice to power his own home and sell some excess to the Tennessee Valley Authority through BrightRidge, his electric utility.

Little did he and his wife Myra know that more than two years later they’d have a system that was only halfway functional and a litany of complaints and bad experiences. Adding insult to injury, they were out another $4,500 after replacing a refrigerator that was ruined when installers made a mistake that caused an electricity spike, which Jones said could have burned their house down.

Inverters for Kevin Jones’s two solar arrays at his home in Kingsport, Tenn. No power is going to one of the inverters because the array has lacked a critical part since August. (WJHL photo)

“When things started to go off the rails was when the inspectors, the city inspectors and the electrical inspectors started getting involved,” Jones said.

Those inspectors, he added, “started noticing shortcuts and things that were missed along the way, which a licensed electrician [would have caught], which I thought Power Home/Pink Energy had, was apparently not the case.”

A big pink headache

The Joneses are far from alone. Attorneys general from multiple states have begun an effort to protect consumers who’ve encountered various problems after spending large sums with now-bankrupt Pink Energy. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in federal court last month.

Kevin Jones speaks to WJHL’s John Jenco about the numerous issues he’s had with his home solar power system. (WJHL photo)

Those AG’s, including Tennessee’s, Virginia’s and seven others, have asked Sunlight Financial and four other lenders to suspend payments and interest accrual for customers “who financed systems from Pink Energy and have not received a working solar power system,” Tennessee Attorney General’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Lane wrote in an email to News Channel 11 Wednesday. 

“I can confirm our office has more than 100 Pink Energy-related complaints on file,” Lane added.

One of those came from the Joneses. Kevin Jones said it took about eight months just to get his system fully installed and certified.

Once it was online, Jones discovered another major problem. When a homeowner wants to power their own place and not just sell back to the grid, lithium-ion batteries that store generated solar power are a must. Because renewable solar is “intermittent” — panels don’t produce power when it’s dark — those batteries can deliver stored power on demand.

But not when they’re placed in the elements, which is what installers did with Joneses batteries despite a schematic showing them inside his garage. In the winter of 2020-21, Jones had to use BrightRidge power because his batteries wouldn’t function in the cold.

“I ended up having to pull teeth really over the next year to get that battery put inside in the summer of 2021,” Jones said.

It took months, but Jones’s battery storage unit is finally located where it can actually work. (WJHL photo)

He eventually succeeded and even got reimbursed for the $5,000 he spent building a fire-proof room in his garage, where the batteries now sit.

That allowed the electricity generated by a 20-panel array on the Joneses’ roof and another one on top of their RV garage to not just generate enough for all their home needs, but to store it. But their problems weren’t over.

‘Oh, snap’

Solar power systems are complex, and even though they passively produce electricity, electricity is dangerous. In August 2022, when Generac learned that one of its critical components that are used between every panel was faulty, it notified customers of a firmware update that would shut down affected solar arrays until a replacement arrived.

The “801” SNAP RS’s were on thousands of Pink Energy solar arrays — including the one on Joneses RV garage.

“That component was firmware-updated because of some fires that were happening because of the faulty 801,” Jones said.

Generac had an “802” version that worked fine. It just didn’t have enough of the units.

“Pink Energy had hundreds of thousands of these on systems that just went dark overnight,” Jones said.

As his wait lengthened, he tried contacting Pink Energy. “I was calling all day long and never getting through.”

Jones started paying attention to the dynamic between Pink Energy and Generac around that time and learned Pink Energy was suing Generac because not enough replacement 802s were available.

The solar array on Jones’s RV garage produced about 7 kW of power until a firmware update shut it down in August pending arrival of a new part. It’s been idle since then and he can’t get an answer to when the new part will be installed. (WJHL photo)

Several months have gone by, and the only progress Jones has made came when he contacted Sunlight Financial, whom he is paying $335 a month for a system that’s once again not working as promised.

“Sunlight Financial and Generac say they’re working to try and get this fixed,” Jones said.

“I did hear back from Sunlight Financial recently saying they’re working with Generac to try and obtain service for Pink Energy’s customers that were left in the lurch, but at this point, I’m still down a system.”

Generac spokesperson Tami Kou responded late Wednesday to News Channel 11’s emailed questions about Generac’s role in the customer situations and its plans going forward.

Kou wrote that issues with the SnapRS 801’s have been more prevalent “when product installation guidelines have not been followed, as appears to be the case with some Pink Energy installations…”

Kou wrote Generac is “committed to getting those upgrades (to the SnapRS 802) and warranty replacements taken care of as quickly as possible and those steps are well underway.”

In light of Pink Energy’s bankruptcy, she wrote, Generac has contracted “with high-quality third-party providers” to perform warranty services for Pink Energy customers.

“We understand that consumers are frustrated with Pink Energy and their inaction,” Kou wrote. “However, Generac remains committed to our customers.” She encouraged customers with questions about Generac components of their solar systems to reach out to solarsupport@generac.com or call 800-396-1281.

An email inquiry to Pink Energy received no reply.

But Jones isn’t confident as long as Pink Energy’s bankruptcy case is unresolved. In the meantime, he’s only generating enough power to cover 60% of his home usage, leaving him with monthly bills from BrightRidge when he expected to be making money from his system and covering all his own needs.

A cloudy foreseeable future

Jones, who still owes more than $60,000 on his loan, said he’s “between a rock and a hard place” as he waits for the day when his system works as promised. He said he isn’t confident that day will come anytime soon.

“I don’t have anybody willing to work on the system,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like Sunlight Financial or Generac is willing to take the steps forward to try and resolve anything until this Chapter 7 bankruptcy is out of the court and done.”

Jones says he has it better than some Pink Energy customers — at least the array on his house is still functional. (WJHL photo)

He’s invested enough at this point to have followed an initial bankruptcy hearing that included Pink Energy CEO Jayson Waller’s testimony. He listened over the internet and came away convinced there aren’t any white knights amongst the players.

“He seemed really contrite and sorry for the way things turned out, and really blamed Generac for his company’s failings,” Jones said. “Now, do I fully believe that? No. There were issues before the Generac firmware push. At this point, it’s in the North Carolina bankruptcy court’s hands.”

Lane said the Tennessee AG’s office doesn’t have much to say at this point. She wouldn’t offer comment on whether a situation like Jones’s fit into those the AG is asking lenders to suspend payments and interest on.

When asked about how soon Tennessee Attorney General Jason Skrmetti expects a response from the lenders and how the office would proceed if they declined the recommendation, she said no timeline was firmed up and demurred about a potential response.

“We … will not get into hypotheticals on what the ultimate outcome may be depending on how they choose to respond,” Lane wrote, while acknowledging “there will be more discussion on this issue.”

For his part, Skrmetti said in a news release he was “proud of our Consumer Protection team’s diligence in investigating this matter.” 

Jones said he’s not looking to escape his financial obligation, but the thought of the AG’s office accomplishing something substantive on behalf of consumers like him is encouraging.

“I would think they would be able to recoup a little bit of this lost money for Pink Energy customers,” he said.

“As much as problem as I had with my system, there are other people out there who don’t even have the system working right now. I’m sure that will be based on each individual customer’s desires at this point, because some people just want to do away with it and be done with it and some people want it up and running and working, like me.”

Jones has two pieces of advice for people who want to go solar.

“If you’re looking for a reputable company, go through the [Better Business Bureau]. I wish I had done that,” he said.

“If your solar company is going to do some installs with Generac, make sure they know what they’re doing and watch them, watch what they’re doing.”