By Debbie Rogers
PERRYSBURG — First Solar has filed a legal complaint against Toledo Solar, alleging the Toledo company passed off panels from the Wood County business as its own.
The complaint was filed this morning in United States District Court Northern District of Ohio Western Division.
The complaint alleges “false designation of origin and passing off goods of another by defendant Toledo Solar Inc.”
“Toledo Solar has falsely represented in commerce, promotion and commercial advertising that Toledo Solar manufactured solar modules that in fact were manufactured by First Solar,” the complaint stated.
The deceptive panels were first noticed in early 2022 at the Ohio governor’s mansion in Columbus, according to the complaint.
The complaint states that Toledo Solar’s false and deceptive activities include:
(1) falsely claiming it manufactured in Ohio solar modules that Toledo Solar provided for installation at the Ohio Governor’s Mansion in Columbus;
(2) falsely representing that solar modules it sold to a distributor were manufactured by Toledo Solar in Ohio; and
(3) advertising on social media certain solar modules as being manufactured by Toledo Solar in Ohio.
“In fact, in all three of the above instances, the solar modules in question were solar modules manufactured by First Solar at its manufacturing facility in Malaysia,” the complaint stated.
First Solar is asking that Toledo Solar should be immediately and permanently enjoined from marketing, selling and/or installing any mislabeled solar modules.
The company should also be ordered to notify all purchasers of these mislabeled solar modules of their provenance “with all deliberate speed.”
First Solar has been harmed by Toledo Solar’s conduct which exposes First Solar to significant liability risk, and the entire photovoltaic (“PV”) industry to immense reputational risk by raising doubt as to the integrity, and the supply chains through which their products come to market, the complaint stated.
In a statement, First Solar said that Toledo Solar must stop selling its panels.
“We were disappointed to learn that Toledo Solar has modified, marketed, and sold First Solar’s CadTel solar panels as its own, and have filed a complaint against the company for deceptive trade practices,” the First Solar statement said.
“Given our role as a solar industry leader with a track record in championing domestic solar manufacturing, we have taken this action after careful consideration of the seriousness of the matter. Our intent is to address and ultimately resolve the issue by having Toledo Solar notify all purchasers of any First Solar panels that it has sold as its own, and to prevent it from making further false claims and selling any additional First Solar panels it may have in stock.”
First Solar is the largest U.S. headquartered solar module manufacturer, with manufacturing facilities in Perrysburg, Malaysia and Vietnam. First Solar has been manufacturing solar modules at its Perrysburg facilities since 2002.
In 2021, First Solar broke ground on a new $680 million, 3.3 GWDC facility in Lake Township. With the new facility, First Solar’s Northwest Ohio footprint will have a total annual capacity in excess of 6 GWDC, which is believed to make it the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside China. In addition, in 2022, First Solar began work on a $270 million research and development facility in Perrysburg.
Toledo Solar is also based in Perrysburg.
More from the complaint:
In summer 2022, a First Solar employee went to the governor’s mansion to retrieve the legacy First Solar modules. While on the site, First Solar observed that the new modules being installed were in boxes labeled as being “Made in the USA” and manufactured by Toledo Solar as Model Number TS1.
The First Solar employee looked at the solar modules in the shipping crates that Toledo Solar was representing it manufactured in the U.S. These modules were in fact First Solar Series 4 modules manufactured by First Solar at its facilities in Malaysia.
First Solar imprints a serial number showing the date and location of manufacture on the inside of the top glass panel of each solar module it manufactures. This serial number also is used by First Solar to track sale and warranty information for solar modules it manufactures.
The solar modules that were labeled as manufactured by Toledo Solar at the governor’s mansion included the First Solar serial number imprint on the inside of the top glass panel. On the outside of the top glass panel of these solar modules, Toledo Solar had etched a new imprint.
The First Solar serial number from the solar modules shipped by Toledo Solar to the governor’s mansion identify that these solar modules were First Solar Series 4 modules manufactured by First Solar at its Malaysia facility in 2018.
The First Solar serial numbers on the solar modules Toledo Solar represented it manufactured show that they were sold by First Solar to a purchaser in Maumee in July 2019.
The quantity of the purchase order to the purchaser in Maumee represented about 13,000 individual First Solar Series 4 Modules (rated at 115W) and about 80 individual First Solar Series 6 Modules (rated at 390W).
In 2019, First Solar manufactured Series 4 modules at its Malaysia manufacturing facility. The label for these Series 4 modules shows that they were “Made in Malaysia” by First Solar at its facility in Kedah, Darul Aman, Malaysia. Likewise, the label included with the purchase order shows that the newer Series 6 modules were manufactured in Ohio.
First Solar also observed that the First Solar Series 4 modules in the shipping crates at the governor’s mansion and marked as being manufactured in the U.S. by Toledo Solar had been altered in two ways. First, Toledo Solar had etched a new serial number on the outside of the top glass panel. Second, Toledo Solar had removed the First Solar junction box at the back of the module and installed a new junction box.
The etching of the new serial number on the outside of the module is not a proper practice, can damage the modules, and nullifies First Solar’s warranty on the module.
In addition, Toledo Solar attached new junction boxes in an improper and potentially dangerous manner that could lead to electrical arcing.
There currently are about 48 modules on the governor’s mansion that are incorrectly designated as being manufactured by Toledo Solar in the U.S., while in fact they were manufactured by First Solar in Malaysia.
In addition, each of these modules was improperly altered by Toledo Solar as described above.
In January 2023, First Solar ordered for testing 200 Toledo Solar 115w modules from a retail distributor of solar modules.
The modules were delivered to First Solar in February 2023. The modules included a label indicating that they were manufactured by Toledo Solar and Made in the USA.
Toledo Solar provided a notarized certificate of origin verifying that the modules it consigned to the distributor for sale were “the products of the United States of America.” A copy of the certificate of origin is attached as Exhibit D. This certificate was forwarded by the distributor to First Solar as the purchaser of the modules.
Like the modules provided by Toledo Solar for the governor’s mansion, the modules consigned by Toledo Solar for sale included First Solar’s manufacturing serial numbers showing they were manufactured by First Solar in Malaysia.
The solar modules consigned by Toledo Solar for sale included First Solar’s junction boxes.
Recently, Toledo Solar has been falsely passing off First Solar modules as being manufactured by Toledo Solar through social media.
For example, in November 2022, Toledo Solar advertised on its LinkedIn page a photograph of a solar module with the statement that: “These are 115W. They basically are the same as First Solar Series 4 panels.” The pictures on the Toledo Solar LinkedIn post show modules with First Solar’s serial numbers under the glass panels with new Toledo Solar serial numbers etched over on the outside of the glass panel.