What do you get when you combine a financial crisis with a climate crisis? 

Hardworking Americans across the United States are falling prey to the fraudulent and deceptive practices of solar panel companies, installers, and the lenders they work with.  The unfortunate reality is that these companies are inclined to prey on individuals who are the most vulnerable.

Across the United States, we are seeing a growing trend in complaints and lawsuits against solar companies, their financing entities, and the unqualified contractors who are hired to install the panels.   When surprise bills begin to arrive, customers are forced to ask themselves where they went wrong.  By this time, it can be difficult to assess the exact point in the purchase process they were mislead.  

Is this an instance of unfortunate miscommunication – or have you fallen victim to solar panel fraud?

Solar companies have made it their practice to deceive homeowners about the true costs of installing solar panels on their homes.  They’ve provided substandard installation, and they have left homeowners with higher utility costs and damaged homes, all while pressing them to sign unconscionable contracts that leave consumers feeling helpless.

It is important to note that not all solar panel companies are bad guys.  There are reputable solar companies who abide by the rules and regulations established to help consumers make their residences more energy efficient. However, the industry has been plagued by unethical practices carried out by financing companies and third-party contractors and installers, who have a propensity to prey on senior citizens and low-income residents.  

While utilizing solar power has become an enticing option for lowering monthly energy bills and contributing to a more green environment, however, choosing to add solar panels to your home should not be a simple decision.  We want consumers to educate themselves before entering into a financially detrimental, binding agreement.  Below are a few important questions to ask before considering a solar panel purchase.

Is your home suitable for solar?

Like any other investment, going solar may not make sense for every home.  After gathering facts, you need to evaluate:

1.      Energy usage for the home. 

How much power must be generated to satisfy the needs of people in the home.

2.      Condition of the roof. 

Does the roof need repair or to be replaced? Can my roof handle the weight of panels?

3.      Geographic location of the home.

Am I in the right climate for solar panels?

4.      Sunlight versus shade. 

Does my roof get enough sunlight throughout the day to produce the power needed for my home?  Do trees need to be removed from my property ?

5.      Appropriate panel configuration.

Does my roof have enough space for the solar panels necessary to provide the appropriate amount of energy for my home?

Is “Free” really free?

You may have heard about door-to-door solar sales representative telling homeowners that the solar panels will be free.  After listening to a sales presentation and learning of the benefits of solar power, the consumer is handed an iPad or tablet to sign, with the understanding that their signature gives the sales representative permission to evaluate the property for panels. However, the signature, or initials, on an iPad may authorize the solar company, without the consumer’s knowledge, to access the consumer’s credit file, utilize the signature on documents that are DocuSigned, enter the consumer into a contract for solar panels, and submit applications to finance the panels.

It’s not until the panels have been installed on the home and statements begin to arrive in the mail that the customer realizes that the solar panels are anything but free.  Rather, many consumers find that they have unknowingly signed into a decades-long financial commitment which can last for 20-25 years for the panels.  Bills from the local energy provider plus the cost of solar panels make the total cost of energy wholly burdensome.  Suddenly, homeowners find themselves in thousands of dollars of debt when they thought the panels were for free.

Is the solar company reputable?

Before making a commitment to purchase solar panels, we urge you to scour the world wide web for reviews from other consumers. Obtain quotes from multiple solar companies for comparison, then make an informed decision about which company is best for you.  Which company offers the product I need to purchase?  Which solar company is actually presenting me with the best system option for my home?  What types of problems have other consumers faced when getting panels from one company compare to another?

How will I pay for the solar power system?

If you don’t have the money in-hand to pay for the system, you must evaluate whether to lease, enter a power purchase agreement (PPA), or finance the system through a solar loan.

The benefit of entering a solar lease or PPA is that costs are not paid upfront. The solar company owns the system on your roof and monthly payments are made to them for the energy generated by the panels.

Solar loans work like other home improvement loans. The loan is taken out through a finance company with monthly payments made to the lender for the purchase of the system.  Just like researching the solar company, homeowners must research the best way to finance the solar power system. There are several companies, such as Goodleap or Sunlight Financial, that offer loans for solar panels.  You must ask yourself, which one offers the best terms for me?

Who is Goodleap?

In short, Goodleap is company to be wary of.  Formerly known as Loanpal, Goodleap is a finance company that provides loans for solar products like rooftop solar panel systems.  Goodleap teams up with door-to-door sales companies who sometimes entice people to sign up for “free” solar panels. Hundreds of consumers have complained about Loanpal/Goodleap’s business practices to the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau has rated Loanpal an “F.” From customer reviews, Loanpal received only one out of five stars.  Some consumers complain that they never even saw or signed a contract.  When faced with accusations that the solar panel salesperson engaged in fraud, such as signing up a consumer for a loan without their knowledge or consent, Goodleap then makes an effort to distance itself from that solar panel company.

It may not be as easy as you think to avoid these deceptive tactics.  There’s a good chance your salesperson won’t even tell you that Goodleap needs to pull your credit report for a loan.  Your “consent” may have been buried in documents that you signed on an iPad or tablet.  You may have been promised copies of everything you signed, but you never received them.  Often, you won’t learn about the existence of any loan papers until the solar panels have been installed on your home.  Remember, it is fraudulent and unlawful for anyone to be signed up for a loan without written consent.

Protect Yourself

·         Get a copy of the sales contract and read it carefully before signing anything.

·         Never give out personal information such as bank account numbers, birth dates, or your Social Security Number to a door-to-door salesman.

·         Monitor your credit report. It is illegal for a solar company to make a hard inquiry on your credit report without a permissible purpose.

·         Visit websites for the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, State Attorney General, and the BBB for further insight.

Have you fallen victim to solar fraud?

State officials are becoming increasingly aware of the fraudulent practices within the solar energy industry.  As complaints roll in and more victims come forward, it becomes clear that these companies must be held accountable.  If you or someone you know has fallen victim to solar panel fraud, please contact our office.