Shining A Light On Solar Scams – Part One – False Promises

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Mar 5, 2024
A sampling of recent solar ads.

Shining A Light On Solar Scams – Part One – False Promises

We’re posting this series to help educate and protect solar consumers as some unethical solar companies now use predatory marketing and sales tactics such as aggressive door-knocking campaigns and deceptive social media ads which are promising things that are just not true – like “Free solar”, “Get Solar + Tesla Powerwall For No Cost”, that a utility will “Pay You” to go solar or that “Time’s Running Out To Go Solar.” We’ve seen ads using political figures, government agencies and electric utilities names and elected officials likenesses (without their permission) in order to mislead consumers into going solar.

We don’t like seeing people with the good intentions of fighting climate change or simply saving some money, getting ripped off.

Puget Sound Solar’s been involved in education and public policy work since 2001. We’re known and trusted by our community, customers and industry as the oldest and most experienced solar installation company in the Pacific Northwest. During this time, the public’s awareness of the benefits of solar has increased and we’ve observed a lot of growth in the solar industry including some great local competitors who are also current members of WASEIA, (Washington Solar Energy Industries Association). (We were a founding member of this professional group.)

Almost two years ago we posted “Watch Out For Solar Scammers – Get Multiple Quotes“, but the problem has grown exponentially resulting in the 2024 Washington State legislature unanimously passing House Bill 2156 and Senate Bill 6256 to create specific consumer protection laws for the solar industry if signed into law by Governor Inslee. These Bills strengthen the transparency in sales contracts and provide enforcement under the Consumer Protection Act.

Emergence Of The Solar Bros

The price of solar has decreased tremendously in the past decade during a period where the public’s interest in solar has increased. The updating of Federal and local incentives supporting solar have created a “Solar Gold Rush,” attracting a wide range of new people, companies and ideas to the solar industry. Some of these folks have good intentions and others are simply engaging in a money grab.

The installation community has seen new regional and national companies enter the solar industry, backed by deep-pocketed venture capital money. Frequently, these companies tie their own financing into their sales process and those terms are often very unfavorable to the customer when compared to other options, like credit unions. Additionally, third-party aggregators who simply gather and sell a customer’s information to solar companies are now placing online ads.

The financial motivation to acquire customers has created a “wild west” where some solar companies use predatory ads and sales tactics to generate new business. We generally observe these tactics coming from the newer companies with multi-state or national operations. Established local companies have stayed in business by being honest with their customers, by providing fair prices and solid customer service and don’t make the same wild claims. We’ll talk more about how to research and select a solar installer in our next post.

Last year, Time Magazine published “How Solar Sales Bros Threaten the Green Energy Transition” illuminating how shady some of these solar companies and salespeople have become with their tactics. They trap customers into signing agreements they don’t understand, use tablets and don’t leave paperwork behind, price gouge, make false claims about incentives and provide little to no customer support when equipment fails. Sometimes these solar companies simply close up and disappear after a few years, leaving the solar owner in the dark and on their own when issues arise. They are highly motivated to get sales without any consideration of the real-life financial impacts on the customer.

One local example, Offset Solar, showed up in Washington in 2017 and left the state by the end of 2019 when a state incentive ended. They simply relocated to a different state with new incentives and left solar customers in Washington without support and employees without jobs. Our Service Department works with “stranded customers” from Offset and other defunct companies, to keep their systems operating.

Time also notes “Rooftop solar can be very good for homeowners who have the right homes—and the right expectations. Homeowners are much more likely to have a positive experience if they call around and compare quotes from solar installers, and if they use a company that friends or neighbors used and liked. But the sheer volume of door knockers and virtual solar sales agents means that many homeowners are encountering the bad actors, rather than the good.

Because we’re in the industry, we’re hyperaware of these scammers and concerned about this trend of unscrupulous marketing and sales. We see their ads all the time online and we’ve even had their aggressive door-to-door salespeople show up on our doorsteps. It’s clear they know how to knock on doors and do sales but also that they know little about solar. Time produced a chart showing the upward trend of consumer complaints and we’ve seen a similar pattern in Washington. You can see the drastic rise in complaints escalates completely out of proportion to the rate of solar installations as the result of the “Solar Bros” in the first chart and that escalation is mirrored here in Washington in the second graphic below.

Chart courtesy – Time
Chart courtesy – Dever Haffner-Ratliffe at 2023 Washington Solar Summit.

How To Identify And Avoid Solar Scammers

In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at how homeowners and businesses considering solar can do some basic research about the companies they’re considering hiring for their solar project. Until then, we suggest two things 1) get multiple solar quotes and 2) get quotes from current Washington Solar Energy Industries Association, (WASEIA) members.

Despite our concerns about the Solar Bros, we want people to know solar can still be a great solution for homeowners and business if you’re dealing with a company with integrity. Good solar companies are transparent and provide great customer service.

In the meantime, we’d love to give you a free, no pressure, customized solar quote. We don’t ask you to sign anything or make any commitments of any kind until after you’ve had plenty of time to look at and ask all your questions about the proposal. Give us a call at 206-706-1931 or scroll to the bottom of this page, fill out our contact form and tell us a little about your project.

About The Author - Stu Frothingham

Stu has a degree in Clean Energy Technology, a Certificate in Sustainable Business Management and a BA in Communications. He’s experienced in marketing solar products and services plus he has a background as a clinician and researcher. Stu designed, manufactured and installed his own solar PV system and drives an all-electric Nissan LEAF to reduce his carbon footprint. Stu is active with local solar organizations, Seattle Parks and Sustainable Ballard. He wants to help to save the planet for future generations and believes sustainability is something we can all embrace.

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