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Solar firm’s closure causes confusion for LI customers

Manhattan-based Level Solar, which operated offices in Ronkonkoma

Manhattan-based Level Solar, which operated offices in Ronkonkoma and Hicksville, cited "unforeseen circumstances" in suspending its operations in September. Above, solar panels not associated with the company are seen on a roof. Credit: iStockphoto by Getty Images

Potentially thousands of customers across Long Island with solar panels from a shuttered company called Level Solar are wondering how to pay their next month’s energy bill as the state works to untangle the unexpected closure.

Last month, Manhattan-based Level Solar terminated hundreds of employees without notice, and a note from its board of directors cited “unforeseen circumstances” in suspending operations.

Level Solar operated what was called a power-purchase agreement model, billing customers at a discounted rate for electricity produced on their rooftops that offset their PSEG Long Island bill. Customers received two bills each month — one from Level and one from PSEG — and Level automatically deducted the charges from their checking accounts. Several customers contacted by Newsday said they haven’t received a bill since August and that money has not been taken from their accounts.

Level Solar, which incorporated in 2013, operated offices in Ronkonkoma and Hicksville and received $25 million in state Green Bank funding for operations, which would supply panels for upward of 6,000 customers, according to a state news release.

Calls and emails to the company’s offices have gone unanswered, and Level Solar’s website has been suspended. Employees last month sued the company, charging it violated a state law that requires 90 days’ notice of termination.

Saul Scope, of Levittown, said he signed up for Level Solar panels four years ago after the company sent its canvassers through his neighborhood. At least five other neighbors signed up, he said.

Up until last month, he said he received a monthly Level Solar statement telling him how much his system had produced and how much power he had used, with a charge that was typically less than half of his former bill from PSEG (which he said still bills him between $10 and $15 a month).

The last Level Solar bill that Scope paid was on Aug. 22, when he submitted $59, in addition to a PSEG bill of around $12, he said. He bought the system on the promise that his energy cost per kilowatt hour would be around 5 cents lower than PSEG’s energy.

“I had no complaints with them when they were in business,” Scope said. “I was really shocked when I saw the articles” detailing their closure.

Officials at one state agency that has been closely monitoring Level Solar in the aftermath of the closure said that for now, customers should still assume that Level is their provider.

“In the near term, customers’ contracts remain with Level Solar and we are working hard to determine what steps can be taken to protect Level’s customers,” said New York State Energy Research and Development Authority spokeswoman Kate Muller. “Customer protection is of the utmost importance to NYSERDA, and we are working to have steps put in place to assist customers in this unfortunate situation.”

Muller noted the state Green Bank is a secured lender to Level Solar and “has structured the transaction with traditional project-finance rights and remedies.” She said the bank “has facilitated ongoing legal and business discussions with others involved in this transaction” and “will continue to do so until we come to a resolution that is in the best interest of customers.”

Scott Maskin, chief executive of SUNation Solar Systems, a Ronkonkoma solar installer that has hired about 20 former Level Solar employees, on Friday organized a local industry roundtable to emphasize the vibrancy of the Long Island market despite the departures of firms such as Level, NRG and SunEdison.

SUNation also is looking into a way to assume the maintenance of systems of current Level Solar customers, as well as build out contracted systems and even take over customer billing.

The message from the meeting, however, was that local Long Island solar companies were “here at the beginning and we’ll be here for the long haul,” Maskin said.

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