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Are Solar Panels Really Free? Things To Look Out For During Solar Sales

Solar Scams- How To Avoid

There may be a knock on your door by a friendly solar panel sales representative. You may be informed of the benefits of solar power and that by choosing to get panels for your home they would be ‘free’.

Remember the old adage – ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch.’

Free Doesn’t Mean Free or ‘No-Cost’

Solar Scams

A solar company sales representative may inform you that by signing up for solar power, you won’t have to pay for the panels themselves — they will be given to you for free.

The trouble is that you will still end up paying each month toward a lengthy contract that could last up to a quarter-century. Basically, a solar lease, or solar power purchase agreement (PPA), closely resembles a home mortgage in contract duration than it would an automotive loan. (Think long-term versus short-term).

Solar Leases or PPAs: What Is The Difference? 

Solar Lease. If you opt to enter into a solar panel lease, you contractually agree to pay a monthly fee for the ability to essentially rent the solar system from a third-party vendor.  So, while the sales representative may tell you that by signing up you are getting the solar panels for ‘free,’ you are still locked into a contract for a system that you will have to pay toward for several years.

Power Purchase Agreement. The other model is a PPA, which is where the homeowner chooses to purchase power directly from the solar power company at a certain rate. In this type of arrangement, the solar companies typically make out better financially than the individual consumer, since the company can take advantage of certain tax credits and monetary benefits, being that they are technically the ‘owner’ of the system, while the individual customer still has to pay for a system that isn’t actually theirs.

The ‘Free’ Panels Aren’t Yours

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Because both of these types of arrangements – a lease and a PPA – involve paying for electricity-generating equipment over a lengthy contract period, those ‘free’ panels that you were promised may be anything but. Once installed on your home’s roof, you will still end up paying toward an entire system that is leased or rented, for a number of years. In the end, the savings you may reap from the solar-generated electricity itself may not be enough to make up for those ‘free’ panels.

Be Cautious…Be Patient…No need to act today.

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Many door-to-door solar sales representatives often ask the consumer to make quick, on-the-spot decisions about obtaining solar power for the home. It is not unusual for the homeowner to feel pressured and need to act immediately.

Solar power can be an exciting and environmentally-friendly way to “go green” while potentially saving money on your electric bills.  Often consumers view the change to solar power for their home as an investment in the future with benefits for generations to come.  But before you or your family chooses solar, you should determine if solar is right for you and your home.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Across the nation, there are many companies that offer solar power systems. But consumers must investigate the advantages promised by the solar company and evaluate whether solar panels would provide benefits to their lifestyle and their pocketbook.

Consumers Must Use Caution

There are a lot of shady actors in the solar market – from the sales company to the panel installer, and then the finance company.  Consumers should be wary of scams in the solar industry and use caution while considering a solar power contract.  Remember to consider the following:

  • Do not feel pressured to sign the salesperson’s tablet or iPad. There is no rush.
  • Insist that the salesperson provide paper copies of all contracts and documents
  • Take time to read every document that requires your signature or initials.
  • Seek advice from a trusted advisor.
  • Get all of your questions answered before signing anything.

Do Your Homework

Take time to evaluate whether a change to solar power is a good decision for you by taking the following steps.

Conduct an audit.  Consumers should conduct an audit to determine if a solar unit will help save them money on energy bills. They should determine how many sunny days they see on an annual basis and evaluate whether shade from trees or structures would block the sun from the location of installed panels.  Also, it is important to check the roof to make sure the home is equipped to sustain the weight of a solar panel system.

Published by Consumer Law- Nov 2020

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