Nick Rosen | |
Citizenre’s happy, shiny people

It’s like the early days of the Internet in the renewable energy business. The conmen and scamsters are coming out from under their stones – and in some cases it is the exact same people who did fake IPOs in the dotcom bubble. Solar expert Jeff Wolfe has exposed an apparently idealistic solar power company called Citizenre, which in reality is a multi-level marketing scheme.

Its stated plan is to build the world’s largest solar panel manufacturing plant and install 100,000 residential systems annually. The business model, which is not unique, is to promise householders solar electric power for the same price they currently pay for electricity. .

Sign up now and they will do the installation in September as long as your State offers net meteringBut as the company recruited thousands of sub-franchisees within weeks, Wolfe’s article at generated hundreds of comments – some of them from old-style multi-level marketing sales agents who were concealing their true affiliation. In one case, a Citizenre marketing agent is a well-known renewable energy conman who has pulled similar tricks in the past, Wolfe revealed.

The approach (a.k.a. network marketing) is similar to Amway — early adopters at the top fo the pyramid became wealthy in the 1960s-70s.

After several weeks of reviewing this new company’s claims, discussing the manufacturing build out plan and its network marketing approach with others in the solar energy industry, plus reading online commentaries from a variety of sources and actually talking with representatives of the company, Jeff Wolfe pieced together enough information to express his opinion that Citizenre is not going to honor its promises.

There has been no financial announcement for a deal of significant proportion, which would be the enabling factor to meet the product or installation capacity required. This company is building is a “house of cards” and attracting a lot of customers who want a deal that’s too good to be true, says Wolfe.

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So, you ask, what’s the problem if Citizenre is not real or if they fail, and the public just gives early buyers a told-you-so, buyer beware shrug of the shoulders? The answer is we all lose. As soon as someone signs up for a Citizenre solar system, they are removed from the pool of potential customers for other reputable solar dealers in the U.S. Already, photovoltaic (PV) dealers are telling me that they are losing business because potential customers are signing up with Citizenre — people are waiting until the reported 500 megawatt “largest fully-integrated PV manufacturing plant in the world” comes online this fall.

But it will be September — the deadline for the build out of the manufacturing facility and beginning installations will have come and gone — before reality sets in for these customers when they do not receive their solar system on time as promised. Plans seem poised to fall apart, and at that point we’ll have four results:

* A lot of very disappointed and upset people.
* A lot of traditional PV dealers who are out of business.
* Reduced or eliminated federal and state incentives for solar electricity due to a perceived lack of need.
* A solar electric industry in the U.S. that has been set backwards 5 years.

Questions & Issues: Citizenre is indicating publicly that they have raised $650 million, and are constructing the world’s largest PV manufacturing facility (PR Web, January 23, 2007, “Is the Sun Finally Rising on Solar Power? An Interview with Rob Styler, President of Powur of Citizenre. This would be the single largest investment in solar power ever, yet we’ve heard not one detail — not who, when, or where..

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Summary Opinion: What I found is that construction has not even started on the proposed manufacturing facility — again the largest in the world. A ground breaking date is not set, nor a location. They will not break ground until they have closed on their major financing. They have not closed on their financing although they indicate it is lined up and they simply need to clear a few hurdles. Citizenre stated that they could have a plant on line in 12 months. In my opinion, that puts their available manufactured product supply out by at least 18 months.

Questions & Issues: The PV manufacturers worldwide are experiencing a shortage of polysilicon. Industrial-strength PV giants have been forced to their knees, and signed up in advance for long term multi-million dollar contracts for silicon. New-comer Citizenre apparently plans on making silicon appear on command, at pricing they dictate. There has been no announced contract like every other major silicon deal. Like “where’s the beef”, I ask “where’s the silicon”?

Summary Opinion: Rob Wills indicated that Citizenre has a source for silicon at “significantly below $60/kg”. My opinion is that when an established international PV companies like SCHOTT Solar cannot obtain sufficient silicon, there is no way for an unproven startup to obtain silicon, and certainly not at below market prices. Without public details, there is no way to justify this position.

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