Solar-Energy Company Sunrun Lied To Investors To Boost Its IPO Price
The largest solar-energy company in the U.S. has been called out by The Wall Street Journal for manipulating a key sales metric shortly to try and boost the company’s share price ahead of its IPO.
In a report published Monday, WSJ got the jump on investigators at the SEC, who had announced their own investigation into shady reporting practices at solar-energy companies earlier this month. WSJ alleges that Sunrun Inc., the largest solar-energy company in the U.S., encouraged its managers to delay reporting hundreds of contract cancellations – figures that would’ve prominently factored into the company’s sales metrics – during the months leading up to the company’s August 2015 IPO.
Sunrun’s shares have dramatically underperformed in recent years as solar demand in California, the U.S.’s largest market, has slowed, contributing to a string of bankruptcies. Sunrun shares recently traded at $4.91, about one-third of their IPO price.
The paper hangs the story on on Darren Jennings, a former manager at the company who says he was pressured to delay reporting more than 200 cancellations – amounting ot a whopping 40% of total orders – while working for the firm in Hawaii, it’s biggest market, and three other former managers. Solar firms typically give customers a few days after installation to reconsider.
“The big internal push was to cram as many sales as we could through the pipeline,” Jennings said. “If those deals cancelled, we would not report it.”
When approached by WSJ, Lynn Jurich, Sunrun’s chief executive and co-founder and Edward Fenster, Sunrun’s co-founder and chairman, both declined to comment.
However, they did provide a statement to WSJ – but it didn’t directly address the allegations that the pair had overseen a managerial culture where employees were encouraged to misreport material information and mislead investors, all to try and boost the offering price.
Jurich said the company “reviewed the digital audit trail in our systems” and “turned up no evidence that our sales employees changed cancellation dates in our systems to delay the reporting of cancellations.”
“I proudly stand by Sunrun’s workplace culture, our values and our unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction and the principle of integrity upon which our company was founded.”
Solar City was headed for bankruptcy when Musk – who had installed his cousin, Lyndon Rive, at the helm of the perpetual cash burner – announced last June that Tesla Inc. would step in and buy the troubled energy company, combining two firms where Musk is the largest shareholder, raising questions about whether the acquisition was really in the best interest of Tesla’s other shareholders.
It’s important to note that the solar energy industry as a whole has developed a reputation for shadiness that stretches beyond these two firms: As WSJ reports, many have complained about solar companies’ aggressive sales tactics, with WSJ reporting one incident where a sales representatives literally following people home from Home Depot Inc.
And let’s not forget about “Solyndra-gate,” when the Obama Administration approved a more than $500 million loan to solar energy firm Solyndra, only to see it file for bankruptcy soon after, leaving taxpayers on the hook.