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Creditors target solar firm


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A hearing on whether a Kailua-based solar company should be forced into involuntary Chapter 7 liquidation begins this morning in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The involuntary bankruptcy petition was filed by an attorney on behalf of four creditors on July 30, and is scheduled for trial today and tomorrow before Judge Robert J. Faris.

Elemental Energy LLC, dba Sunetric, allegedly owed a sum of $215,008.79 to four creditors, including a former executive who now works for a competitor.

Joshua Powell, formerly Sunetric's vice president of construction operations, claims he is owed $175,000 in unpaid compensation. Powell resigned from the company in May and is now a partner at Distributed Energy Partners (D/E/P) and its sister company, RevoluSun.

The three other creditors include PLS Builders, with a claim of $21,818.91, Allison-Ide Structural Engineers, with a claim of $12,985.12, and Pang Communications, with a claim of $5,204.76 for public relations work.

Sunetric has since paid off the three smaller creditors, according to court documents, but alleges that Powell's is not a “;bona fide”; claim because the amount is in dispute.

Honolulu attorney Chuck Choi of Wagner Choi & Verbrugge, who is representing the creditors, says in court papers that Sunetric was not paying its debts as they became due in July due to financial mismanagement.

He also says that Sunetric President Sean Mullen signed an agreement to pay Powell a minimum of $175,000 in full without interest by Aug. 28 but has since determined he owes him “;zero.”; Powell even loaned Sunetric nearly $200,000 in operating capital in November and December of last year.

Jerrold Guben of O'Connor Playdon & Guben, representing Sunetric, says in court filings that the company has generally been paying its debts as they become due, and continues to operate its business in good faith.

He also says the involuntary bankruptcy was filed by “;unhappy ex-employees who started a competing company.”;

Powell, along with former Sunetric vice presidents Mark Duda and Todd Georgopapadokas, now work for D/E/P and RevoluSun.

Duda and Georgopapadokas, both former partners at Sunetric, were terminated from employment in May. Powell joined their company shortly afterward.

Sunetric, which was launched in 2004, installs and designs solar PV and hot water systems for both residential and commercial clients, and has grown exponentially. Revenue at Sunetric grew from about $3 million in 2007 to $30 million in 2008.

Past projects include an 803-kilowatt PV system for Kona Commons, a new retail center anchored by Target on the Big Island, as well as a 154-kilowatt PV system for apparel manufacturer Tori Richard Ltd.'s headquarters in Kalihi.