The Campaign for Accountability (CfA) asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to open up an investigation into companies that offer residential solar panels in Florida. The group claims that some solar companies are using misleading sales practices and targeting elderly consumers, who are particularly susceptible to these tactics. The claims are based on a review of complaints filed with the Florida AG since 2011.
Solar Sales Tactics Cited by the CfA
The full letter can be found here and references the following specific cases:
- An 80 year old woman was promised 40% energy savings and a 1% interest rate, when actual savings were 10%-15% and the interest rate was 12%
- A solar company that was targeting veterans and told one man that he could purchase a $17,000 air conditioner with no out-of-pocket expenses under an Obama administration “green government program”
- A solar company that coerced an elderly couple into signing an agreement to install solar after they declined
The Florida AG has not responded publicly to the letter yet.
Complaints in Other Solar States
As solar has expanded, there have been similar stories as those in Florida in other states:
- Utah: A telemarketing scam in Utah that claimed to be from a fake state government agency and urged homeowners to take advantage of a solar incentive that was schedule to end soon.
- Arizona: After complaints that solar companies were taking advantage of elderly homeowners, law makers pushed for additional disclosures on the cost and benefits of solar companies.
- Texas: A New York times article covered a company in Texas that had grossly over-promised on the savings of a $20,000 solar system.
Free Solar Panels?
A quick scan of the internet reveals examples of solar companies marketing “Free Solar Panels“, which is typically a headline for a power purchase agreement, but it does highlight the aggressive tactics that some solar companies use and the need for greater consumer education in the residential solar industry. As the CfA found, there are many companies that have gone beyond aggressive marketing headlines. To protect consumers, Sunvago has published a checklist for how to choose a solar company.
A Test for Florida
An analysis of solar penetration by state illustrates how small the Florida residential solar market is compared to more developed markets such as California and New York, but that could be set to change in 2017. Pro solar consumers recently defeated utility-backed Amendment 1, which would have paved the way for Florida utilities to dismantle net metering. Another win for the residential solar industry in Florida was a December announcement that SolarCity would be expanding into the state and opening an operations center in Orlando. We view this as a net positive, as the presence of larger national players may lift the standards across the industry and force out the few “bad apples”.