Avoiding Solar Scams

In a state that boasts an average of 300 days of sunshine per year, it should come as no surprise that solar energy is on the rise in New Mexico. It’s not only in the southwest though: across the country, over 3 million solar installations have been integrated into the energy process, and the industry is still continuing to thrive and grow.

This is great news for all of us! Especially those of us interested in saving money, lowering our nonrenewable energy consumption, and safeguarding the health of our planet.

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows — with the continued expansion of solar energy usage comes the continued expansion of solar panel scams, as well. So, before you leap toward a cleaner, greener future, it’s best to do your research and come to your first consultation prepared.

Luckily, you can do that right here, right now. To avoid being scammed and to ensure your ecological efforts are properly compensated, keep reading. Below you’ll find our top tips for escaping scammers, including avoiding red flags and asking thoughtful questions during your solar consultations.

Where to start?

Before beginning a relationship with any solar company, local or national, check the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Online reviews from Google or Yelp can be helpful but shouldn’t be the foundation of the business’s credibility, as these reviews can always be fake.

You can utilize the BBB Scam Tracker, a continuously updated online bulletin board of scams sorted by state, and the BBB database of reports on accredited and non-accredited businesses. The former allows you to search through confirmed scams quickly. At the same time, the latter will give you a much better picture of how this particular company operates and develops relationships in general.  It will also give you an insight into how long they have been in business and how well they are servicing their customers.

Ask around

While this step might get overlooked in the modern age, your friends and family who have built direct relationships with solar energy companies will have some of the best advice and information available.

Typically, a local solar company will have firm roots in the community and a deep understanding of the region’s weather patterns, tax credits, and more. Working with a national company is always an option, but when it comes to peace of mind, nothing beats speaking directly with the team that made your Aunt Josephine’s solar installation a breeze.

Plus, there’s often a referral program available with local, legitimate solar companies, so your aunt could, for example, get $500 for referring you to a particular business.

Solar Smart Living - Solar ScamsRed flags to avoid

When upgrading your home, trusting the businesses you work with is vital. If a solar salesperson makes you, at any point, uncomfortable with pushy tactics or information that’s not adding up — walk away and kindly escort them from your home.

Solar power will only continue to get more popular and accessible, and there’s a local, reputable solar company waiting for you to call. No need to worry about missing out on any so-called deals of a lifetime.

Beyond using your intuition, though, several other red flags can signal dishonest or misinformed business practices.

  1. Rebate offers: the financial benefit of installing solar energy systems comes from a tax credit that varies by state, not a supposed four-figure rebate.
  2. Low, low price: if their estimate is far below industry standard, look for a new company. The company giving you the low price may accept your deposit payment and never be seen again or go out of business in 5 years or less.
  3. Paid estimates: not every solar company that requires payment for an estimate is a scam, but the most trustworthy companies we’ve seen always offer them for free.
  4. Pressure to commit: no reputable solar company will bully you into signing a contract before you’re ready; that’s just plain rude.
  5. Leasing push: leasing options make sense for large-scale commercial and government solar installations; for residential projects, not so much. Look instead for a company with low-interest financing options.
  6. Be wary of gimmicks and free items/services:  Some companies love tantalizing you with free upgrades and services but remember, nothing comes for free.

Green flags to note

Green flags, or signals of trustworthiness and legitimacy in a business, are often the direct inverse of a red flag. Take the last example, for instance — a representative that is happy to offer generous financing options for residential homeowners is signaling credibility and integrity.

There are a few green flags that might not be so obvious, however.

  1. Warranties: most solar panel companies will offer a warranty, but ensure you read the fine print. Your best option is a company that offers warranties on the panels, inverters, and installation and will be around long enough to honor them.
  2. Tax credit: make sure your solar representative knows current tax credit rates for your region and feels confident talking you through the process.
  3. Accreditation: while some solar websites might claim to have basic certifications for their installers, not all will have additional credibility markers like a membership with their state’s Green Chamber of Commerce or the U.S. Green Building Council. If the business you’re working with does, that’s a green flag.
  4. Timeline details: every solar project will vary in complexity and difficulty, but your solar representative should still be able to offer a transparent timeline and complete walkthrough of the process.
  5. Specifications and specializations: not every roof is made equal, some have more shade, and fewer south-facing options for optimal sunlight — the solar energy company you work with should be able to give you a realistic expectation of your energy savings based on your home specifically. They’ll also be able to tell you, after an assessment (if needed), about the status of your roof and whether or not it needs repairs before installation.

Solar Smart Living Scams ContractsAsk the right questions.

Hopefully, you’ve had the opportunity to research, ask your friends for recommendations, and get an estimate before you sit down with a solar energy representative. That’s not always the case, though, so if you find yourself suddenly conversing with a door-to-door salesperson offering you deals on solar panels, here are ten questions to ask to ensure your investment goes to a reputable company:

  1. What certifications do the installers have? (Pro tip: double-check certifications with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners website!)
  2. What are the terms of the warranties offered, and do they include panels, inverters, and installation?
  3. What does the warranty coverage look like for issues arising after installation?
  4. Does the system being installed offer production and/or consumption monitoring?
  5. Are there financing options available other than leasing?
  6. If so, what are the ranges for monthly payments, and what APR rates are offered?
  7. Does the business acquire full, written consent before pulling credit information during the financing process?
  8. Does the business have commercial, industrial, and/or government clients, or is it strictly residential?
  9. How long has the business been operating, and how many solar installations have been completed?
  10. Will the business include information about potential roof repairs or vent relocations in its proposal?

The solar energy market is projected to continue expanding in the coming years. Solar companies will, most likely, continue to be fiercely competitive in the growing industry and engage in a myriad of sales and promotional tactics. With this information and further research under your belt, though, there’s nothing to fear. You can now upgrade your home’s energy system safely and without sacrificing time, money, or contentment.

About the author
Alan Morgan

Alan is a solar and sustainable energy advocate. He has served the renewables industry for over 5 years for companies such as Solar City and Tesla and now acts as the Director of Business and Market Development for Solar Smart Living.