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Attorney General Ellison secures $85K in refunds for solar garden consumers charged unlawful early-termination fees

February 15, 2024 (SAINT PAUL) — Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today he has secured approximately $85,000 in restitution for Minnesota customers of four community solar garden operators — FastSun Solar, LLC, Cypress Creek Renewables, LLC, Generate Capital, Inc., and Global Atlantic Financial Group Limited — for early-termination fees (ETFs) they were charged. As part of the settlements, the operators also agree to no longer enforce the ETFs as they are written in current contracts with Minnesota customers and not to include unlawful ETFs into any new contracts they enter into with Minnesotans.

Community solar gardens are large solar power installations that produce electricity that is transmitted to Minnesota’s energy grid. In return, Xcel Energy’s community solar garden program provides community solar garden operators with credits that can be used to offset an energy bill. Solar garden operators then sell these credits to consumers to be applied to consumers’ power bills.

Under Minnesota law, companies may charge consumers for canceling contracts without providing a certain type or amount of notice, often called early-termination fees. However, they are not allowed when the amount charged as an ETF is unreasonable, the actual damage to the company for the early termination can be calculated by other means, or there are other convenient ways for a company to obtain a remedy for the termination.

“The community solar garden program is an innovative way for Minnesotans, whether renters or homeowners, to tap into the power of green energy without having solar panels installed on their own roofs,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said. “However, no matter how noble the cause, as an added safeguard, I encourage Minnesotans to read any contract they sign carefully for any potentially unfair terms that could be buried within those contracts. This Office stands ready to ensure that consumers aren’t subjected to illegal, deceptive, or unjust terms.”

At the time the Attorney General’s investigation began, the four solar garden operators worked with a third-party contract administrator, CleanChoice Energy, which administered contracts with similar ETF terms for each company.

The Attorney General’s Office was alerted to ETFs in contracts administered by CleanChoice Energy from consumer complaints. A subsequent investigation revealed that 290 consumers had been charged up to $250 or $500 apiece in unreasonable ETFs, for a total of $84,328. CleanChoice, FastSun, Cypress Creek, Generate Capital, and Global Atlantic all participated fully in the Attorney General’s investigation.

“I strongly encourage companies, especially those using third party contract administrators, to examine the terms of their contracts with consumers, to be aware of what they are asking consumers to sign, and ensure that their contracts comply with Minnesota law,” added Attorney General Ellison.

“The relief we obtained for consumers came about because someone who had a problem told us about it,” Attorney General Ellison concluded. “I urge Minnesotans to contact my office when you believe you are being cheated or taken advantage of. We will do our best to make things right.”

Minnesotans can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online or by phone at (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787, or at (800) 627-3529 (Minnesota Relay).

 

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