The New York attorney general spearheading a months-long investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate record has done so while all-but ignoring a growing scandal within the state’s solar panel industry.
AG Eric Schneiderman has spent a year investigating Exxon for supposedly duping investors about the company’s knowledge about climate change. Yet he has ignored similar infractions from giant solar panel producer SolarCity.
The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) began an investigation in May to determine whether solar panel provider SolarCity is doing enough to disclose to investors the number of customers canceling contracts for solar energy systems. California-based Sunrun is part of the investigation.
SolarCity has tried to tamp down concerns stemming from the SEC probe. The company “has remained focused on reporting the quality of our installed assets, not pre-install cancellation rates,” a spokeswoman told reporters at the time of SEC’s announcement. “Our growth projections have always been based on actual deployments.”
The issue places SolarCity, which merged with electric vehicle maker Tesla earlier this year, squarely in the crosshairs of the financial regulators that have grown increasingly concerned about the solar panel producer’s bizarre business model.
A class action lawsuit was filed against the company more than a year before the SEC investigation. It made the case that documents provided to shareholders were “materially false and/or misleading, as well as failed to disclose material adverse facts about the Company’s business, operations, and prospects.”
The lawsuit also claimed that executives were concealing a slack in demand for solar panels from investors, and that the company’s statements championing SolarCity’s business, operations, and prospects, were false and misleading. Media outlets have also been on the solar producer’s case.
The New York Times, for instance, reported earlier this year that SolarCity has reached long-term lease agreements with homeowners before they defaulted on the mortgages. There could be even more default cases, the report noted in February.
SolarCity’s legal counsel admitted that the company is dealing with lawsuits stemming from the wave of defaults. Mohammed Ahmed Gangat, a lawyer for the beleaguered company, argued in September 2016 that the solar panel maker needed to file a document late to a New York court because it was deluged with thousands of lawsuits across the country.
The Department of Justice has also gone after the Silicon Valley-based company for allegedly artificially inflating the numbers of installations. SolarCity agreed to pay $29.5 million to resolve allegations the company submitted inflated claims to cash in on a solar stimulus program, DOJ officials announced Friday. The agency noted that the fine was not an admission of guilt.
Investors typically use the number of cancellations to gauge the companies’ financial well-being. Solar panel providers give customers several days to back out of a deal once the contract has been signed. Schneiderman has made similar arguments about Exxon’s financial decisions.
Schneiderman submitted to a federal court in June 2017 documents that he believes show Exxon has been using public and secret numbers to calculate the future impact of Earth’s warming on its assets.
The secret numbers show the effects climate regulations have on the company’s future assets, he argued. Republican lawmakers even argued that Schneiderman orchestrated SEC’s investigation into Exxon.
Exxon said in a 2014 report that it applied a cost of $60 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 to its projects in developed countries. Schneiderman’s documents appeared to show the oil producer used a price of $40 per ton internally.
Much of Schneiderman’s initial probe is based on reports from liberal-leaning media outlets InsideClimate News and Columbia University, both of which claim that Exxon has known the risks of global warming for decades but kept such knowledge under wraps.
Schneiderman has gotten nearly $264,000 in campaign donations from monied individuals with ties to liberal billionaire George Soros and his family. They’ve donated $251,000 to Schneiderman’s political campaigns since 2006. Soros himself has given Schneiderman $64,500, while his sons and daughter-in-law donated the rest.
Soros is a major funder of liberal causes, and has funded groups pursuing a case against Exxon for allegedly misleading people about climate science. He’s funded groups like the Tides Foundation, which gives to environmentalists who want government officials to investigate Exxon.
Schneiderman’s office has not responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about whether the AG’s office is considering opening an investigation into SolarCity.
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