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Solar firm braces for legal battle

Greenlight Energy staff with a recent solar installation (Photograph supplied)

A company with a loan scheme to cover solar energy installation has accused the island’s electricity and telecoms watchdog of blocking the innovation.Greenlight Energy said its financing arrangement would allow people unable to afford the upfront cost of green energy to install solar power panels.Kenny Thomson, Greenlight’s president, warned that the firm was prepared for a legal battle after the Regulatory Authority of Bermuda said its business plan breached the law.Kenny Thomson and Greenlight co-founder Cameron Smith said they had gone ahead with “a handful” of solar installations to prove the concept worked despite the RA.They added the RA demanded a list of clients last month and executed contracts, along with information about the business.The firm declined. Mr Thomson said last week: “We thought they would love us. That was naïve.”He said Greenlight was a financing company that would “allow people to get solar with zero down — we wanted to create a business that makes solar accessible to everybody”.Mr Thomson explained the initial cost of $15,000 to $20,000 to install solar energy panels on a house put it out of most people’s reach.He said: “We started this business not only because we think it can be profitable, but also the right thing for Bermuda. It addresses a major problem, because only very wealthy people can buy solar.”Mr Thomson highlighted that Bermuda was “exporting about $75 million per year to purchase oil and gas overseas”. He said: “We want to keep that in Bermuda’s economy and in our clients’ pockets.”Mr Thomson founded Greenlight in December 2018 with Mr Smith and fellow entrepreneur James Anfossi.He said the Greenlight scheme offered “a loan interest based on the energy production of their solar panels”,Payments to the firm would only start once the system started production of renewable energy.Mr Thomson said the group found “a pretty big investor who loved the idea and wanted to back us” early last year.Mr Smith said: “We went confidently to the RA, thinking we would be on our merry way.”He said Greenlight’s model appeared to follow the RA’s integrated resource plan for energy, which was designed to promote the development of renewable power.But the authority said their activities was “retailing of electricity, which is a prohibited activity under Part 4 of the Electricity Act 2016”.However, Greenlight said their lawyers at MJM had told them the business would be “selling the equipment, financing its purchase, installing it and maintaining it”.MJM told the RA in April 2019 that Greenlight’s plan “clearly provides that they will not be in the business of retail or sale of electricity”.Mr Thomson said the authority’s hardline approach had scared off investment.He added: “We had a tough decision — do we give up? We wanted the regulator to support us. Or do we press on, out of our own pockets? We decided to persevere.”Mr Thomson said they “put up a few projects proving the concept works” and decided to start marketing this year.Greenlight has fielded more than 200 calls since advertising began three weeks ago.Mr Smith said the interest was “phenomenal, considering the size of Bermuda”.Mr Thomson said the RA “stopped us in a major way early last year and now they’re doing it again”.He added: “The very entity that should be supporting us is totally stifling our success. Now we are about to spend money on legal fees when we should be spending it on solar panels.”Mr Thomson said their lawyers were “gearing up for a legal battle that we’d rather not have”.A spokeswoman for the Regulatory Authority said that one of the watchdog’s roles to ensure operators in the sector stayed within the law.She added: “In April, 2019, Greenlight Solar met with the RA to discuss its proposed business plan. “Based on the information provided, the RA subsequently advised the stakeholders of Greenlight Solar that the plans were in contravention of the Electricity Act 2016. “As the regulator of the sector, the expectation was that Greenlight would amend its offering to be in line with the Electricity Act.”She added that Greenlight Solar appeared to have operated with its original plan despite the RA’s warnings.The spokeswoman said: “The RA subsequently invited its principals to meet with the RA to discuss the current plan and to provide certain requested information. “To date, with no proper reason, Greenlight has declined to meet and has refused to provide the requested information.” The spokeswoman added that the authority was “legally entitled, in fact obligated” to check if Greenlight complied with the law.She said: “It should also be noted that other parties with similar business offerings have complied with the RA’s requests for information.“In an attempt to avoid escalation of this matter, the RA continues to ask Greenlight for the requested material.”