Georgia Attorney General: Beware of misleading solar power ads
Aug. 20—ATLANTA — Attorney General Chris Carr has warned Georgians about misleading ads from rooftop solar marketers containing false promises, such as free solar, free electricity and no more electric power bills.
Consumers have reported inaccurate cost/benefit calculations, poorly designed or installed products, an inability to reach the vendor after installation, and false claims of partnership with Georgia Power and Georgia's electric membership cooperatives made by solar marketers.
"Solar panel installation is a significant investment, whether you buy or lease a system," Carr said in a news release. "We strongly urge Georgians to thoroughly research whether this is the right solution for them and to confirm that the solar panel company they are considering is reputable."
Homeowners should be aware that even with solar power panels installed, they still have to pay their electric utility provider for access to the electric grid and for electricity when their solar is not operating, such as at night, on cold winter mornings or cloudy days.
Consumers should always confirm program and participation details before signing up for an offer. Customers with a solar system are required to have an agreement with their electric utility company if they wish to connect their system to the electric grid or participate in a utility-sponsored solar program, so they should be sure to contact their electricity provider to confirm details before committing to anything. For information about solar programs, consumers can visit the website of their electricity provider, be it Georgia Power or an EMC.
The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division offers the following tips for consumers considering installing solar panels for their home:
— Review your existing power bill to see how much energy you used last year and what it cost. Look for the part of the bill that is for "metered" electricity or kilowatt-hours (kWh) and what is for other items such as delivery cost. Be aware that even if you reduce the number of kilowatt-hours you buy from the utility, you will still have to pay the utility's fixed charges related to the provision of electric service.
— Remember that there are other ways to lower your electric bill, such as reducing your home's electricity use, weatherizing your home, and making your appliances more energy-efficient.
— If you are part of an HOA or condo association, find out whether you are permitted to install solar panels.
— The amount of power you get from a solar panel system depends on several factors, including how much direct, unshaded sunlight your roof gets annually; the angle, age and condition of your roof and which direction it faces; the size and strength of your system; and environmental factors, such as dust or snow, that may cover your system.
— Be cautious about responding to unsolicited ads, social media posts or text messages, as these companies may not necessarily be reputable. Instead, consider asking friends, family and coworkers if they can recommend someone, and make sure the provider is associated with a licensed electrical contractor. Get estimates from several different solar panel companies before making your choice, and remember that cheaper isn't always better.
— Check the solar panel company's reputation by going to the Better Business Bureau's website at bbb.org, seeing what their rating is and whether many complaints have been lodged against the business. You may also want to do an internet search by using the company name plus the word "complaints."
— Find out exactly what is included in the price, such as maintenance fees, repairs, property taxes and insurance. If you are leasing the panels rather than buying them, find out whether monthly fees will increase over time and whether there is a lease buyout option.
— If the seller is promising you a certain amount of savings by switching to solar, ask them to show you exactly how they came up with that figure. Make sure calculations reflect the fixed cost or the cost of access to the electrical grid and the supplemental electricity you will still require from your regular electricity provider. It is recommended to allow your electricity provider to provide a savings analysis based on your rate, usage pattern and actual historical energy usage.
— Find out if you qualify for any tax credits or rebates, whether those go to you or the solar panel installer, and whether those are already reflected in the price.
— Residential solar systems are designed to stay on your home for at least 20 years. Think about how long you are planning to stay in your home, find out how installing a system will affect your ability to sell the house, and ask if the solar company will let you transfer the contract to the new homeowner after a sale.
— Make sure the solar panel installer is associated with a licensed electrical contractor in Georgia. To see if an electrical contractor has the required professional license, go to the Licensing section of the Georgia Secretary of State's website, then choose "Electrical Contractors" under "Georgia Licensing Boards." From there, select "License Search" under "Licensing Services" (https://verify.sos.ga.gov/verification/).
— If you will be financing the purchase, talk to your bank or credit union to see if you can finance through them — it may save you money.
— Read over the contract carefully before you sign. Make sure that you understand the details of any warranties and that all promises and guarantees are in writing.
For additional information about whether solar energy is right for you, how to select a provider and how to finance the purchase, visit consumer.georgia.gov/solar-power-your-home.