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Mass. attorney general sues wind installer

A wind turbine installer misled environmentally-conscious consumers, suit alleges.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has filed suit against a wind turbine installer, alleging that the company is taking advantage of consumers purchasing alternative energy.

Filed on Tuesday, the suit claims that WindTechCo misled consumers regarding the rebates available and the performance of wind turbines. It also alleges that the company's owner, Mark Howland of East Freetown, Mass., installed unsafe turbines and did not complete promised work.

Howland, a former state representative, had his bank accounts frozen by the judge who heard the initial complaint.

The suit says that WindTechCo only delivered 20 wind turbines even though about 80 consumers paid Howland. Many of those turbines were not inspected as they should have been or were not properly installed, which led to turbines that did not produce the power consumers expected, the lawsuit claims.

In addition, the suit alleges that Howland wrongly told consumers they would automatically be reimbursed for a portion of the wind turbine's cost from a quasi-state agency that promotes alternative energy in the state.

"It is troubling that individuals who were attempting to be more environmentally-conscious were not only taken advantage of financially, but also that their safety was put at risk by this unscrupulous contractor," Coakley said in a statement.

The case illuminates a potential pitfall in an ongoing alternative energy boom.

Consumers are showing growing interest in wind power and other sources of energy, such as solar power and biomass. But a comprehensive and mature network of installers is not always available in many places.

One solar start-up, called Citizenre, which has yet to start full operations, has been accused of setting unrealistic expectations.

Existing solar installers say Citizenre's business model of renting solar panels through a network of affiliates is flawed and could disillusion consumers.