Beware of Shady Solar Installers

It would be great to work in an industry that is self-policing and largely above any major ethical breaches. While most solar dealers are good people, driven by ideals of a better world, there are shady solar companies out there, and you need to stay away from them. Why is it so important in this industry, and how do you steer clear?

There was recently a big stir when a solar panel manufacturer in Florida was caught selling and installing solar panels with fraudulent UL listing labels. These panels are potentially dangerous, and definitely illegal. The dealer and it’s parent company who manufactured the counterfeit parts declared bankruptcy, and homeowners, businesses, and even governments were left holding the bag. The telltale signs were there — selling system below other dealers’ cost, delusions of grand plans for utility scale solar fields, and online reports of shady business dealings from former employees. I was warning people to stay away a year before the fraud became apparent when we lost a government contract opportunity to the impossibly low bidder.

I just learned of an out-of-town competitor that beat us out, earning the business of a prospective client. As it turns out, that competitor sold our prospective client solar panels that do not have the proper certification for installation in the State of Florida. It’s not certain that the building department will catch this oversight, but what the dealer is doing is definitely not legal, possibly dangerous, and unquestionably unethical. The client will be left holding the bag with a system that other dealers like me will be unwilling to service down the road when the shady competitors closes up shop (this WILL happen, I assure you).

A similar situation occurred recently where we contracted to add on to an existing system, which was permitted and inspected. We had every reason to believe the existing system was installed correctly, legally, and with good workmanship. Sadly, we discovered numerous code violations that prevent us from effectively servicing the system and adding capacity. The remedial action will be expensive. The homeowner is dejected. The original installer is in the wind.

Why is this problem prevalent? In my opinion, the perceived money in solar energy system sales and installations draws in a lot of people who see a big ticket item that is poorly understood by the public. The industry is relatively young without a lot of competition in some areas. The technologies are varied and the resulting performance, features, and benefits are all over the map. Government and other incentives skew market prices. That is a recipe for big scores by ripoff artists.

What are the signs? Who do you choose or your solar energy needs? Did a telemarketer, based out of town, cold call you to gauge your interest? How did they get your number? Did a sleazy salesman come into your home (as an invited guest) and aggressively push for you to sign on the dotted line before all of your questions were answered? Does your quote focus more on the net cost after tax credits and incentives, hiding the real initial costs or financing terms in the small print? Were you presented a contract that is substantially lower (or higher) than apples-to-apples quotes? Are you even able to compare quotes on a apples-to-apples basis, and if not, will your dealer explain why their offering is different? Will they do things by the book, pull permits, require a Notice of Commencement? And finally, how long have they been doing this, and do they love what they are doing?

The telltale signs are usually there. If it’s too good to be true, take a step back, take your time, and ask questions. Get referrals. Ask a neighbor. My business partner always says, “there is no such thing as a solar emergency.” We are not dealing in air conditioning or water heating here. Solar energy products are not necessities — they are luxuries and investments.

Finally, if you are looking for a second opinion, a practical assessment, or a formal presentation and quotation, contact us!

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