Troubled solar contractor Michael J. Harvey has requested a hearing to challenge the findings of a state investigation that recommended the revocation of his license and fines totaling $50,000 against himself and his company, Able Energy, state records show.
State regulators recommended the penalties after dozens of Able Energy customers complained about the company’s failure to complete work on their solar projects. Some customers have been waiting as long as two years, even though they made upfront payments totaling as much as $150,000. Altogether, about 200 jobs remain unfinished in Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to a state report.
The scale of the company’s problems is unprecedented for a solar installer in Minnesota, according to state regulators and industry officials. In the past five years, companies have installed an average of about 450 solar energy systems per year in Minnesota, state records show. Former employees said Able Energy has collected more than $1 million in advance payments on unfinished work.
In a March 5 licensing order, officials with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry accused Harvey and Able Energy of violating multiple state laws by engaging in “fraudulent, deceptive or dishonest practices” and demonstrating “incompetence, untrustworthiness or financial irresponsibility.”
Able Energy’s state license expired at the end of February, but the company has been trying to restart work on some Twin Cities projects by hiring subcontractors. Work recently stalled again because several electrical firms backed out after the state took action in March, Harvey said.
“My reputation sucks,” Harvey said this week. “I hate that. It’s an awful feeling, especially when you know you are doing everything you can for people. But I am not a man to give up and I am here until the end to make sure every one of these systems goes up.”
Harvey said he would not commit to any completion date for the remaining projects, even under a best-case scenario.
“There are too many uncertainties now,” Harvey said. “Do I get my license back? Do I have to find new subcontractors?”
The owners of two electrical contractors said they recently asked Harvey for upfront cash payments to make sure they didn’t get stiffed if Harvey failed to honor their contracts. In recent months, courts in Minnesota and Wisconsin have awarded judgments totaling more than $250,000 against Harvey and his company over unpaid bills and unfinished work, according to the state licensing order.
“I am scared to work for him,” said Ken Larson, president of Belknap Electric, a Wisconsin company that considered doing work for Harvey in the Duluth area.
Harvey said he is willing to pay his subcontractors in advance, but he said that hasn’t been enough to convince some companies to finish his installations.
Matt Lacy, an Able Energy customer who is scheduled for an installation next week, said state regulators warned him that the subcontractor could put a lien on his St. Paul house if a billing dispute later arises with Able Energy.
“I’ve heard so many times that they have ordered my solar panels and then nothing happens,” said Lacy, who paid $23,000 in upfront money and has been waiting for his system since October 2016. “I am going to explode if another excuse pops up.”
In the licensing order, regulators faulted Able Energy for performing work without a permit and without a master electrician on staff. Master electrician Randy Thompson said he supervised the company’s crews for about two years until he got into a dispute with Harvey in 2016.
Thompson said Harvey insisted on treating him as a subcontractor so he could avoid paying him overtime, even though state regulations require a master electrician to be a W-2 employee. He said he was also unhappy because Harvey fell behind on paying him about $30,000.
Thompson said he refused to keep working for Harvey when he found out the company had received multiple complaints from the state about an installation in Ely, Minn., that required corrective work. Thompson said Harvey never shared the notification with him, even when state officials threatened to take action against Thompson’s license.
In the licensing order, state officials said the Ely project wasn’t corrected for 20 months, and then only because the homeowner filed a claim against Able Energy’s performance bond.
“I let state officials know that I was no longer willing to be responsible for Mike Harvey and the shenanigans going on at Able Energy,” Thompson said. “He blames everybody for his problems except Mike Harvey.”
Harvey acknowledged that he fell behind in paying Thompson, but he denied asking Thompson to violate any rules. He said the problems in Ely were an “oversight.”
A preliminary hearing on Harvey’s license is scheduled for May 14. A full hearing at which both sides can present evidence and call witnesses will probably follow within four to eight months, according to state officials.