Watchdog pushes Texas to investigate solar industry

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, October 31, 2016

A watchdog group is calling on the attorney general of Texas to investigate alleged “false and misleading acts” by the solar industry in marketing and selling panels to consumers.

In a letter this week to Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), the Campaign for Accountability said it identified 12 companies in the state that it says either misled consumers about the savings from solar power or provided inadequate service.

The letter claims the companies “falsely represented the savings the customers would realize from solar power, lured them in with low price quotes that later proved to be false, required them to sign confusing and ultimately inaccurate contracts, and/or performed shoddy installation of the solar panels.”

“It appears from many of the complaints that these companies promised significant savings in customers’ monthly utility bills with the installation of rooftop panels, but those savings never materialized,” the letter adds.

The Washington, D.C.-based group conducted a review of consumer complaints about the sale and installation of solar panels filed with the attorney general’s office since 2012.

It said its review was prompted in part by earlier comments from the group Public Citizen to the Federal Trade Commission. In August, Public Citizen called on the FTC to ban what it termed “rip-off clauses” preventing consumers from taking solar companies to court if they engage in abusive practices (Greenwire, Aug. 23).

In a statement, the Solar Energy Industries Association said it was looking into the allegations in the letter.

“No doubt, if companies are engaging in illegal behavior, the laws should be strictly enforced. Nothing is more important to us than the protection of our customers. Our ability to compete depends on word of mouth from happy customers. SEIA members have signed on to a business code of conduct and we have developed extensive guidance, including a consumer guide in English and in Spanish, which educates prospective customers about the solar transaction and suggests questions they should be asking as they consider going solar. We also have developed model contracts and disclosure forms and we have established a consumer resolution process so that we can help resolve consumer complaints when they come in,” SEIA said.

Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for Paxton, did not comment on the solar letter specifically but said not all complaints end up prompting investigations. “When consumers submit complaints to this agency, we review these complaints and use them as a window on the marketplace to determine trends or identify targets for enforcement,” Lovvorn said.