How Moxie Solar customers lost money

Solar buyers recount their experiences with Moxie Solar, financial lending companies

A snow-covered 240 solar panel array alongside the North Liberty Streets Department, installed by Moxie Solar. CREDIT NOAH TONG
A snow-covered 240 solar panel array alongside the North Liberty Streets Department, installed by Moxie Solar. CREDIT NOAH TONG

Moxie Solar customers hoping to make the prudent financial and environmental decision of utilizing solar in their homes sunk thousands of dollars into the company. But for many of those clients, it led to a convoluted process, and in some instances, left customers holding the bag without any functioning solar panels or reasonable action of recourse.

On March 7, 2022, Moxie Solar lost its Better Business Bureau accreditation after months of complaints flooded the BBB’s website.

Once a reputable brand, customers started to report horror stories. Customers reported partially installed or nonfunctional solar systems, being left in the dark with insufficient communication from Moxie leadership, endless permitting problems, incorrect engineering plans causing month-long delays and the use of incorrect supplies.

The CBJ talked to a number of customers, in Iowa and around the country, to learn more about their experiences with Moxie Solar.

$100,000 vanishes

A key motivating factor in buying solar for some customers was to have a source of power in emergency situations.

“Maybe a year or two ago, a big winter freeze knocked out a bunch of power around here,” said Hoainam Duong, a customer living in Texas. “I figured it would be nice to have some energy independence, as well as some means to cut costs on my electricity bill.”

He signed a contract with Moxie in April 2021 — months before problems bubbled to the surface publicly — having done his research on Moxie and viewed it as a reputable company that “everyone raved about.”

Mr. Duong financed the deal through a financial holding company called Sunlight Financial. Through these companies, customers will make a monthly loan payment over many years.

“You can sometimes get access to a lower interest rate and a monthly payment where you’re saving a little bit of money with a path toward ownership,” said Lewis Butler, president of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association. “They interface directly with the solar company. You’re not writing a check out of pocket when signing a contract.”

The contract stated Moxie would install a 16.8 kW PV solar system consisting of 40 modules on the south-facing part of his roof on his home in a contract worth approximately $100,000. An email shows a Moxie employee telling Mr. Duong the project would be completed within three months.

Over the next 10 months, Moxie complicated the project plan eight times by persuading the customer to switch from Tesla Powerwalls to Enphase batteries, submitting inaccurate plans not in accordance with the original agreement, or creating plans in which Mr. Duong spotted errors himself.

If a project is not installed in a certain timeframe, Sunlight Financial has the right to claw back money advances to Moxie if milestones are not met.

“For financed customers, the finance companies would ultimately pay Moxie 100% of the cost upon completion of the array, but that would be before the array was hooked up to the grid and generating electricity,” said Keith Fuglaar, a former Moxie CFO. This means Moxie could receive funds from the project before the user was able to get solar energy from their system. 

“We would get advances from the finance company that could be clawed back if certain milestones weren’t met, but after arrays were built there were no claw backs,” he added. “About 70% of Moxie’s business in 2022 was financed, compared to 30% of people who paid in cash installments.”

Mr. Duong maintains Moxie never installed anything and never received the proper permits for the plan, yet the loan was funded in October 2021. When asked what those funds were being used for, he said Moxie did not answer.

He reached out to Sunlight Financial. They sent photos they received from Moxie showing a house with installed solar panels. The only problem? The photos they received were not of his house.

The Moxie representative admitted to the incorrect photo submission, saying it was an error that occurred while training newly-hired staff. Moxie committed to making payments that began in January so Mr. Duong would not have to. 

Mr. Duong said Moxie fulfilled their promise to make payments for a couple months before stopping.

By March 2022, feeling fed up with the nearly year-long project, Mr. Duong asked to cancel his project and receive a refund, noting it had been five months since Moxie had attempted to obtain a permit. His complaint was passed to the escalations team, and he was told cancellation now would be “costly.”

To this day, Mr. Duong is still making payments on his Moxie solar project loan. Having completed the project with a different local solar company in Texas, he ultimately spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on acquiring solar.

Mr. Duong’s case said Sunlight Financial stopped returning his messages about his $100,000 in funds missing, despite Sunlight acknowledging they received photos he took of his house that prove no solar panels were installed. This led him to find another financing loan elsewhere and he contested the loan with Sunlight and All In Credit Union.

“[All In Credit Union] told me someone from their team would contact me,” he said. “It’s been about a week since I last contact[ed] All In Credit Union and no one from there has reached out to me.”

After requesting a statement from Sunlight Financial and All In Credit Union on Mr. Duong’s situation, a Sunlight Financial spokesperson said, “Following an analysis of the specific customer’s situation, we reached out to the customer and agreed to cancel the loan given the particular circumstances.”

“I’ll believe it when it comes through,” said Mr. Duong.

Changing sales strategy, lack of materials

North Liberty Mayor Chris Hoffman began working for Moxie in 2014. At the time, he was just one of five employees working as a business developer before becoming vice president of sales in January 2019. He served as a city councilor for North Liberty until the beginning of 2022.

Despite being named as a vice president, the title was for “marketing purposes” as it provided more “distinction” when responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs), he said. Mr. Hoffman said he never supervised other sales staff or attended weekly sales meetings, often selling projects on his own accord using years of experience in the industry.

Mr. Hoffman learned the ins and outs of the solar sales world from Mr. Hall, as he taught him how to educate prospective customers on how solar energy works, the advantages of renewable energy and the financial benefits solar can provide.

Brandon Yoder (left), founder of Green Transitions in Vinton, was acquired in 2016 by Moxie. North Liberty Mayor Chris Hoffman, Jenn Hall, and Vice President of Moxie Solar Illinois Blair Gretter. Photo taken in 2016. CREDIT CHASE CASTLE
Brandon Yoder (left), founder of Green Transitions in Vinton, was acquired in 2016 by Moxie. North Liberty Mayor Chris Hoffman, Jenn Hall, and Vice President of Moxie Solar Illinois Blair Gretter also pictured. Photo taken in 2016. CREDIT CHASE CASTLE

But by January 2019, Mr. Hoffman said he noticed a shift in how Mr. Hall trained the sales staff.

“The [sales] process and conversation wasn’t so slow and educational about the technology and how beneficial it will be for you and the environment,” he said. “It really turned into a sales payment-per-month type of conversation.

“I think he recognized that my approach was slow,” he added. “It wasn’t producing great volume every day.”

“Moxie was really aggressive with their sales tactics,” said Jeremy Zumbach, a Marion-based customer. Mr. Duong described the initial sales kick as “pushy.”

The shift also signaled Moxie’s growing relationship with financial holding companies, such as Sunlight Financial or SunPower.

Mr. Hoffman said he didn’t offer loans through a third party like Sunlight Financial, instead electing to have customers pay 25-50% of the total cost in an initial down payment. 

“The benefit of paying cash is you’re not paying interest and there are no dealer fees,” said ISETA President Lewis Butler. 

By January 2022, Mr. Hoffman started his term as mayor and began receiving emails on behalf of the city from concerned residents and the Iowa Attorney General about Moxie’s business practices. He said he winded down his business by this point, except for one final client whose project he wanted to finish. Doing so, however, was more complicated than ever before.

Some solar projects require surety bonds, or a financial guarantee that a project will be completed. An insurance carrier did not issue a surety bond to Moxie for his final client, he said, and Mr. Hoffman learned that two separate payments from the client had not gone toward purchasing solar materials for the project, as is normally expected.

“Moxie probably lost all of their suppliers, or a good number of them, and couldn’t make these purchases because creditors wouldn’t be allowing them to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment because they haven’t been able to pay their bills for the past couple of months,” he said. “I have to believe the credit worthiness of Moxie by that point in time had deteriorated so much that it became a real risk for an insurance company to take on this possible repayment of a project’s cost if Moxie didn’t complete it.”

The customer’s final two payments, to his understanding, would go toward purchasing the required solar materials, but the client was getting apprehensive in committing more funds to the project.

Mr. Hoffman worked with the customers to purchase the solar panels and equipment directly, allowing them to ship the product directly to the project location, effectively bypassing Moxie’s supply chain struggles. 

Once the project’s interconnection with the utility company was set up, Mr. Hoffman felt comfortable stepping away from Moxie. 

He said Moxie owes him tens of thousands of dollars personally.

Internal frustration at Moxie

Similar problems faced Patricia Davis Prichard and her husband in North Carolina when they entered into a contract with Moxie for a $69,000 solar project in early 2021.

“We continue to get the runaround, which makes this whole experience horrible and expensive for us due to having a light bill and a loan payment,” she said in an email to Moxie. “Last month our solar bill was $220 and our light bill was $150.”

A common sales pitch to customers was that installing solar through Moxie would virtually eliminate traditional electric bills, especially with the help of tax incentives.

In their case, they had been making loan payments since November 2021 on the 36-panel project, despite being unable to store or monitor the power they were generating, and being sold batteries that would not work within their solar system.

At the beginning of September 2022, a Moxie employee elevated their concerns to COO Travis Eichelberger. The employee told Ms. Prichard that Mr. Eichelberger had not yet responded.

A different employee empathized with the Prichards, agreeing that Moxie made promises it could not keep, severely let down its customers and blamed away its problems with excuses.

The next month the employee said there was no update on the status of batteries for any project — yet alone their batteries — and the operations manager told the employee there was no timeline in place for proceeding. 

The Moxie employee attempted to offset loan payments to have Moxie start to pay for the Prichards’ system in the short term, but the company went out of business less than three months later.

Mr. Eichelberger said that for any customer that reached out about the status of an installation, they would try to “get that on the schedule or get that customer taken care of.”

“When you have that [company] growth and then you have to downsize, that doesn’t mean you lose the workload,” he added. “The workload is still there but you have less people to handle it. Toward the end, we actually hired individuals specifically to work with upset customers and escalated customers.”

Calls to the Moxie office in Charlotte were fruitless, she said. For two years, Ms. Prichard said she never heard back when calling Moxie’s North Carolina office number.

In states where Moxie utilized third-party installation crews, those offices often did not have staff on the other end, said Cody Leclere, a former lead engineer, permitting and interconnection specialist for Moxie.

“People started calling the lead generation [number] instead of the service option because no one would answer the service line,” he said.

Ms. Prichard said she took time off work without pay five times only for installation crews to never show up, a sentiment shared by other customers including Mr. Zumbach, a Marion-based Moxie customer.

Mr. Zumbach, a U.S. veteran, is owed $30,800 from Moxie after paying two of four payments. He took off work several times in late November 2022 to be around for the installation, but no one from Moxie showed.

Ben Dillon, the chief strategy officer and co-owner of Cedar Rapids-based marketing agency Geonetric, turned to Moxie to install a project for his home during the same time period. 

He paid his second installment just days before Moxie abruptly closed its doors, and although his credit union was able to reverse his most recent payment, Mr. Dillon is still out $8,000.

On the hook

These situations highlight how unprotected consumers can be when it comes to solar power installations. To any casual onlooker looking to install solar, Moxie looked like a reliable company with years of experience, and many consumers could not have reasonably foreseen the degree of mismanagement Moxie exhibited.

A letter from the Iowa Attorney General office sent to affected customers in 2022 was shared with the CBJ. In it, the AG’s office states that installing a solar operating system is a private contractual agreement that can only be remedied through breach of contract lawsuits in the judicial system, saying it is unlikely to win a remedy through criminal prosecutions.

Even if customers obtain a judgment for breach of contract, there likely won’t be funds available to earn, given that Moxie was unable to cover their liabilities and pay back creditors or contractors, nevertheless customers.

Alyssa Brouillet, press secretary for the Iowa AG Brenna Bird, did not respond to a request for comment on Moxie’s operations.

It is in a financing company’s interest to divvy out projects to capable solar installation companies — and to get unfinished Moxie projects completed by another solar company — explained Mr. Butler, as they are financially incentivized to get projects over the finish line.

“That’s pretty much the only way they can get paid back by these customers is if these projects get done,” he said. “That said, they’re in the business of making as many loans as possible.”

Ironically, Moxie historically made a habit of finishing installation jobs for customers left unfinished by other solar companies that went out of business, said Mr. Fuglaar.

“A lot of [finance companies] make it very easy for consumers to borrow, they make it very easy for installation companies to get advances on these projects,” he added.

Sunlight, All In Credit Union and SunPower, another financing partner Moxie used, offered general statements on the record about their business practices with Moxie.

“We are committed to providing homeowners in Iowa with access to affordable, high-performing solar solutions,” a SunPower spokesperson said. “We are working diligently to ensure current and future customers in Iowa receive the quality of service that we have made standard practice at SunPower.”

“All In Credit Union has made it a priority to work with members experiencing difficulty and we will continue to do so in the future,” a spokesperson said.

“Moxie Solar was one of more than 1,800 contractors nationwide that offer financing to their customers via Sunlight Financial,” a Sunlight Financial spokesperson said. “After Moxie closed its doors, Sunlight reached out to Moxie’s customers to help them secure permission to operate from their local utility, interconnect to the grid, and realize the benefits of going solar. Sunlight underwrites and continually monitors installers using independent, third-party data to assess credit, financial, reputational and operational risks.”

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