A Greentech Media piece picked up an interesting item:
a recently filed class action lawsuit accusing residential solar provider
making deceptive statements about the rising cost of electricity to make its
solar installations more attractive to consumers.
filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Sunrun's central marketing
message is that increases in electricity prices will result in cost savings for
customers who have Sunrun solar systems installed at their homes. But,
according to the complaint, Sunrun "deceptively states with certainty something
that is inherently unknowable."
Class plaintiffs quote the following excerpts from
Sunrun's web site:
You already pay a lot for electricity today. In the
future, you'll pay even more. Nationwide, electricity rates have been
increasing 6% per year over the last thirty years. When you go solar, you
take control of your electricity costs and opt out of utility rate
increases. You'll save money with solar by locking in a lower rate for
your electricity than you will pay for the next thirty years. Many Sunrun
customers start saving money right away.
How much money will I save with Sunrun? ...your solar
electricity rate is fixed and will rise very gradually. This means as
your utility rate increases its rates over time, the amount of money you'll
save with Sunrun will also increase over the life of your agreement.
According to the complaint, the representations that
consumers would save money due to increasing electricity prices was misleading
because, for example, energy prices at Southern California Edison have
leveled off in recent years. The complaint also cites a number of
articles reporting that natural gas prices have fallen considerably recently
due to increased shale gas production.
Perhaps most salient is this short piece on CleanEnergyAuthority.com, quoted in
the complaint, in which Jeff Mayer, the CEO of UK company Soluxe Solar says:
Most leasing contracts are sold on the assumption that
the consumer will save money because utility costs are expected to increase
over the years. But, the truth is that utility prices have been flat to
down and consumers are being misled.
According to the complaint, customers whose current
electricity prices are not as high as estimated by Sunrun are already losing
out, and those whose electricity prices do not rise as expected in the future
will also experience this cost disadvantage. Ultimately, however, even if
Sunrun's customers do not end up paying more for solar, the company's
unequivocal marketing message is still false and misleading:
But whether the cost disadvantage is experienced or not,
the promise of a system sure to result in cost advantage was false when made
and likely to deceive consumers into leasing a system they otherwise would not
One difficult question is how to classify this
case. At bottom, it's really about economics, not environmental benefits,
so greenwashing is not a comfortable fit. But to the
extent the cost savings at issue flow from renewable energy
equipment, perhaps it's not unreasonable to label it as some form of
The alleged deception here relates to electricity
prices generally, which are mostly driven by fossil fuel
production. So the allegations are probably closest to
reverse greenwashing, which I define as allegedly false or misleading
statements not about environmental benefits, but about the negative
environmental impact of certain products or services (keeping in mind
the caveat, of course, that the adverse impact alleged here is economic,
For more on reverse greenwashing, see my initial post on
the ChicoBag case here.
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