Most households are looking for ways to reduce costs. Today, utilizing the sun’s power has become an enticing option. Lowering monthly energy bills and contributing to a green environment are common reasons that homeowners opt for solar power. But, choosing to add solar panels to your home is not a casual decision. It requires research, investigation and planning.
Is my home suitable for solar panels?
There are pros and cons to every decision a homeowner makes. Like any other investment, going solar may not make sense for every home. After gathering facts, you need to evaluate:
- Energy usage for the home. How much power must be generated to satisfy the needs of people in the home.
- Condition of the roof. Does the roof need repair or to be replaced? Can my roof handle the weight of panels?
- Location of the home. Am I in the right climate for solar panels?
- Sunlight v. 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 for panels to work efficiently?
- Panel configuration. Does my roof have enough space for solar panels?
Shopping Solar Companies & Financing
Similar to purchasing other items for the home, when considering solar panels, homeowners must shop around, get quotes, and investigate solar panel companies to compare one offer from another. There are a wide variety of products on the market with varying levels of efficiency, durability, reliability, output and design. As well, there are a number of solar companies and installers — some are better than others. Check the company’s reputation to see if complaints been filed against them with the Federal Trade Commission, State Attorney General, or Better Business Bureau? Also, searching court dockets for lawsuits that have been filed against solar panel companies or their finance companies may provide insight to issues that other consumer’s have faced involving solar transactions.
CAUTION #1: Is “Free” really free?
Frequently, we hear about door-to-door solar salesman 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 presented an iPad or tablet to sign, believing their signature gives the salesman 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 Doc-U-Signed
-Enter the consumer in to a contract for solar panels
-Submit applications to finance the panels.
It’s not until panels have been installed on the home and bills begin to arrive that the consumer realizes solar panels are anything but free. Instead, many consumers find that they 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 burdensome. All of a sudden, homeowners finds themselves in thousands of dollars of debt when they thought the panels were for free.
CAUTION #2: Is the solar company reputable?
Before making a commitment to get panels, investigate reviews from other consumers. Obtain quotes from multiple solar companies for comparison. Then decide which company is best for you. For example, do I get panels from SunPower, Momentum Solar or Tesla? Which company offers the product I want to buy? Which company is presenting me with the best system for my home? What types of problems have other consumers faced when getting panels from one company versus another?
CAUTION #3: Why did the solar company access my credit report?
Prospective lenders for solar panels, such as banks, credit unions and financial institutions, seek access to the homeowner’s credit reports to determine whether to extend credit. This can only be done with the consumer’s written permission. When reports are accessed without the consumer’s permission, the consumer’s rights may have been violated. The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law that governs the privacy and accuracy of credit reports. If you do not want your reports accessed, do not sign anything that would grant permission.
CAUTION #4: How do I pay for the solar power system?
If you don’t have cash on 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, Mosaic, or Sunlight Financial, that offer loans for solar panels. But ask yourself, which one offers the best terms for me?
For instance: Who is Goodleap?
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. In fact, some consumers complain that they never 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 has attempted to distance itself from the solar panel company.
The 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 were Doc-U-Signed on the iPad or tablet. And although you may have been promised copies of anything you signed, 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.
How to protect yourself when considering solar
- Get a copy of the contract and read it carefully before signing. There is no rush for you to enter into a deal.
- Never give out personal information – bank account numbers, birth dates, Social Security Number – to a door-to-door salesman you just met.
- Monitor your credit. It is illegal for a solar company to make a hard inquiry on your credit report without a permissible purpose. You must provide written authorization for someone to access your credit file.
- Visit websites for the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, State Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau for insight on solar energy scams.
Seek Legal Help from a Qualified Consumer Law Firm
Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that evaluates solar panel sales matters for potential violation of the consumer laws involving fraud, such as forged contracts, identity theft and credit reporting privacy violations. Contact Us
Pictured: Cary Flitter (center), Andy Milz (left), Jody López-Jacobs (right).