In recent years, installation of solar panels has become a lucrative and growing business. Many contractors have chosen to forego their conventional construction projects and get into the business of selling, financing and installing solar panels. As solar panel installations on homes have increased, so have complaints to the Contractor’s State License Board (CSLB). In 2010 there were only 59 complaints to the CSLB in connection with solar panels. Between January 1, 2015 and May 1, 2016, however, the complaints surged to 535.
The majority of the complaints stem from the sales/lease process rather than the quality of the installation work. The complaints include misrepresentations regarding the electric production claims and cost savings, as well as offers of financing that are not really in the consumer’s best interest. For example, a solar salesperson can tell a homeowner that they can save $400 per month on their electricity bill if they install a solar panel and then offer a financing plan of $350 per month to pay for the solar panel. If the homeowner takes that deal and then realizes that the savings on electricity are only $100 per month, that means that the homeowner went into the deal thinking he or she would save $50 per month just to find out that he or she is now paying $250 more per month.
Based on a rise of complaints to the CSLB, the CSLB is taking measures to aggressively investigate the complaints, including establishing a Solar Task Force.
So how should a solar contractor avoid complaints by consumers? Here are a few tips:
1. Make sure you are properly licensed as a solar contractor under a C-46 license. This license covers installation, modification, maintenance and repair of solar energy systems.
2. Make sure that you register your sales staff through the Home Improvement Salesperson program with the CSLB. Note that if you have a business establishment where your products are on display and potential customers come into your store, the sales staff there are not required to be registered. But if they solicit homeowners directly, then make sure they are registered.
3. Train your sales people properly so they avoid misrepresentations regarding performance and cost savings. It is impossible to give exact predictions regarding performance and cost savings because the outcome is dependent on the equipment, site location and weather patterns. Any promises otherwise, will get the contractor/sales person in trouble.
4. Make sure to follow and comply with the permit process for the city, county or municipality.
© 2017 Marina Manoukian