Solar Energy Scam Season

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Dana Blankenhorn

Any hot investment field is ripe for scams. It’s that time for solar energy.

Sun Energy of Australia says it has been making “solar inverters”  since 1987. Its directors appear to all be legitimate businesspeople.

But look a little more closely. What is a stock photo of the old Merrill Lynch bull doing there? A flower? The Earth, seen from space? And click the “language” icons on the home page. They don’t lead anywhere.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has told the Sydney Morning Herald it suspects stock fraud, adding the same outfit may have tried to pull the same trick  in South Africa. It’s an old story hype your prospects, sell stock in it, skip town and do it again.

Most directors contacted by the Herald were quick to deny any involvement in Sun Energy of Australia. Only one of the faces on that directors’ page turns out to be a real director. His name is John Price (pictured right), and while you can’t right-click his picture on the company’s Web site for some reason, I was able to work around that.

Mr. Price claims to have been an Australian Entrepreneur of the Year. Funny thing about that. Ernst & Young, which gives out that award, doesn’t list him among the winners. A collection of big corporate names are listed on Price’s Sunenergy bio as sponsors of the award – only Qantas is currently.

Mr. Price also claims to be a graduate of the Harvard Business School. Hard to check on from Australia. Not so hard from Atlanta.

There is a John R. Price who is a graduate of Harvard Business School. He’s a banker in Pittsburgh. Note that the Pittsburgh Price uses his middle initial. That’s a good hint for anyone with a common name, if you want people to find you easily.

Linkedin lists 24 people named John Price in Australia. This John Price is not one of them. The Harvard Business School alumni directory is closed to outsiders. I contacted the registrar, there, who has no record of Australia’s John Price.

It’s unclear what exactly is going on here; investigations are underway. It may be a serious fraud. Unfortunately, that’s to be expected in this burgeoning industry where investors are looking for big returns while brandishing their green credentials.

Consumers, business leaders and financiers need to be on guard against this type of behavior. When fraud hits renewable energy, every honest person in the space is a victim.

Dana Blankenhorn first covered the energy industries in 1978 with the Houston Business Journal. He returned last month after a short 29 year hiatus because it’s the best business story of our time. In between he covered PCs, the Internet, e-commerce, open source, the Internet of Things and Moore’s Law. It’s the application of the last to harvesting the energy all around us he’s most excited about. He lives in Atlanta.


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