Warning: If Your Solar Guy is a Trump Fan, He Might be a Fraud

December 19, 2022

Butler County Journal-News (Ohio):

More than 400 Ohioans are among customers in multiple states who filed complaints alleging shoddy workmanship and deceptive practices by a North Carolina solar energy systems company that closed and then filed for bankruptcy in October, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

“It really upsets me that they were able to get away with this and rip off a lot of people,” said Dustin Gilroy, a Bethel Twp. man who bought his solar energy system in October 2020 from the company, Power Home Solar, which changed its name to Pink Energy earlier this year as complaints against it mounted across the U.S.

He is one of 39 people in the nine-county Dayton region and 410 statewide who filed complaints with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost since January 2021. The consumers are disputing $23.4 million in charges for solar energy systems installed by Pink Energy, according to complaint data provided by Yost’s office.

“We ended up spending $46,000 and stuck with stuff that doesn’t work,” Gilroy said. “I got duped.”

A bankruptcy trustee made clear that there is little hope in sight for consumers who are among the 30,000 customers, creditors and former employees receiving bankruptcy notices nationwide as Pink Energy’s assets are collected and liquidated.

The complaints and swirl of legal action around Pink Energy provide a cautionary tale for consumers looking to save money on energy and as residential solar energy system installations soar and the federal Inflation Reduction Act boosts to 30% a federal tax credit for those systems. That law, passed earlier this year as part of an effort to battle climate change, replaces a 26% credit set to decline and then expire in 2024.

Below, see if you can spot the clue that this “solar installer” might be a crook.

“Pink Energy ripped off consumers and is hiding behind bankruptcy,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who along with eight other state attorneys general sent a letter in late November to Sunlight Financial of North Carolina and four other lenders who financed the purchase of the Pink Energy systems, asking them to suspend loan payments and interest accrual as those states’ investigations and litigation involving Pink Energy continue.

Shapiro’s office has 299 complaints about Pink Energy as of Dec. 11, said Jacklin Rhoads, communications director.

“Lenders who want the solar power sector to grow should help consumers obtain relief now, while Pink Energy’s bankruptcy process continues,” Shapiro said in a news release. “Consumers made good-faith choices to heat and power their homes and should not be trapped in loans for a product that wasn’t delivered.”

CNET:

Here’s a quick list of additional red flags and claims from Solar United Neighbors and the Department of Energy that should prompt you to do some research.

  • “The federal solar tax credit is going away soon.” The tax credit does reduce in 2023 and is slated to go away in 2024. There are some deadlines here, but as of the time this story publishes, nothing that doesn’t allow you a second to think.
  • “There’s a special program ending soon.” Some utilities are moving away from net metering and government programs do end. Make sure you get the specifics and understand whatever program is being discussed.
  • “You only have one choice of equipment.” Most solar installers have preferred providers for equipment, but can accommodate preferences from customers.
  • “Your utility is going to raise electricity prices XX% each year.” Electricity rates do go up (and it’s particularly uncertain now), but you can find historical electricity costs for your area and judge whether or not a company’s estimate passes the smell test.
  • “You can save up to 70% on your electricity bill.” Seventy percent sounds great, but that “up to” could be doing a lot of work. Do most people save 70% or does everyone save far less? Be sure to ask.
  • “Put solar on your roof for free!” This almost certainly doesn’t mean free but rather, no money down. You’ll still have a monthly payment after that.
  • “You can say your home is powered by green energy.” This is only legally true if you get to hold on to the solar renewable energy certificates. In a PPA, you might sign those over to the solar provider, who then gets to claim the environmental benefits.

Department of Energy has tips as well:

Here are some of the most important factors to consider as you embark on your residential solar journey:

  • Credentials – Industry-standard certifications are awarded through organizations like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)—widely recognized as the gold standard among renewable energy system installers. Make sure the installer you choose is licensed, bonded, and insured to install residential solar projects in your area. Ask if they will be using subcontractors on your project and verify the subcontractors’ credentials as well.
  • Credibility and Expertise – Seek out installers who have experience installing solar equipment and are knowledgeable about all aspects of the process. A good rule of thumb is to work with installers who have at least three years of experience. Ask them how long they’ve been in business and how many solar energy systems they’ve installed. In fact, ask a lot of questions, including: What modules do they use and why? Can they clearly explain which solar incentives you are eligible for and how they work? What can they tell you about coverage under warranties if there’s a problem with a component or the energy system after installation?
  • Transparency – There shouldn’t be any mystery about the work being done on your home; your installer should be upfront with you about the process and be willing to answer all your questions at any time. Further, if your installer uses subcontractors, make sure you know which portions of the project they will handle and what oversight your installer will provide.
  • Addressing Roof Conditions – When you hire an installer, one of the first things they should assess is your roof’s condition. Ask your installer if they recommend roof repair prior to installation. Also, make sure you are clear about who is responsible for roof damage that may occur or a roof leak if one develops.
    Most roofs have protruding vent pipes. Some installers will place the panels to fit around these vents, but you may not like how that looks. If you’re getting your roof repaired prior to installation and you have protruding vents, you can ask if the vents can be moved to a spot where there won’t be solar panels. If they can’t, ask your roofer about replacing protruding vent pipes with low-profile vent openings, which can fit underneath solar panels. Ask your installer to include any roof repairs and vent relocation in their proposal.
  • Reputation and Testimonials – Do your due diligence by reading online reviews from installers’ past customers. The installers you’re considering should be able to point you to previous clients who will share their installation experience. As you comparison-shop, the installers should demonstrate their ability to communicate clearly and help you understand how your system will work.
  • Talk to Friends and Neighbors – When in doubt about whom to trust in a crowded marketplace, reach out to people you know who have gone solar to find out what they learned from the experience. You may find that you have more confidence with direct feedback from a neighbor than scrolling through online reviews.
  • Pricing – Installers are likely to have different rates for the same job, so comparing quotes from multiple installers is important. Most experienced installers will come look at your home and then give you a price proposal based on your home’s size, energy usage, and other factors. For an idea of what you might pay, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Tracking the Sun report contains installation prices across the United States. To compare, convert your quote to cost per watt. You can calculate this by dividing the cost of the system by the system’s capacity in watts. Since capacity is measured in kilowatts(kW), multiply the number of kW in the system by 1,000, then divide the system’s cost by that number.
Advertisement

2 Responses to “Warning: If Your Solar Guy is a Trump Fan, He Might be a Fraud”

  1. Rodney Smith Says:

    Poor grammar.

    Should be “If Your Solar Guy…”

    As it is, it reads, If You Are Solar Guy is a Trump fan…

    Just saying’.

    I enjoy your site.

    >


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: