February 7, 2020 • By Dennis Beaver
“We are considering making the jump into solar for both our home and machine shop which consumes a great deal more electricity than a normal house. But in researching solar in general, I came upon some of your articles which were very negative about solar, feeling that it has been oversold and a rip off for many customers. Do you still feel that way, and if so, why? Thanks, Kaleb.
Solar Snake Oil – Call Ghost Busters
At some distant point in time historians will look back on the rush to install solar rooftop panels across America as one of the greatest examples of snake oil since snake oil.
“Beaver,” you may be thinking, “Do you seriously believe that solar doesn’t do what it claims, that it won’t save us significant amounts of money on our electrical bill?”
That is precisely what I am saying based upon, not just the fiction of hugely reduced energy bills, but the real cost of solar installations–and collateral damage–that repeats itself over and over again.
Politicians and the solar industry have played upon our collective desire to be “green,” and the result is that families across America have been saddled with monstrous liens on their homes–up to $40,000–with promises of “Free Solar.” The industry has taken advantage of the elderly, and especially those who lack English language skills, told to “just sign here,” and watch your energy bill go down.
Touted as a way to lower electricity charges, solar can do that, but many of the real benefits have been eaten away by major utilities making it less attractive to have a system. But that’s only part of the problem. If your system works as represented, great, your monthly bill goes down – but you are on the hook for an installation that today can cost over $20,000 or more.
The output of solar panels deteriorates yearly and they have a limited life-span. Their electronics are expensive to replace. While for some people solar works well, our office has yet to see one household installation that pencils out. It has been quite the contrary.
And if it stops working? Who are you going to call to fix it when your installer has gone bankrupt, or they refuse? Ghost Busters? That’s the evil part of solar owners who leased their systems are discovering–assured that maintenance was part of the deal– and what prompted Southern California real estate appraiser Mike Launer to contact my office in the summer of 2018.
If you want to spoil your appetite, just Google Customer Service Solar City/Tesla. You will find complaint after complaint from owners who were ignored for months, first by their dealer, Solar City, and then Tesla who bought the failing company. That was Mike Launer’s experience as well.
His system had been malfunctioning for 21 months–but Tesla failed to notify him–and he then received a yearly “True Up” bill in a whopping $900.00 from Pacific Gas and Electric. “Something was very wrong, and then my bank tells me that Tesla is trying to take out $2400 from my account!”
Thus began the kind of frustration customers across the country complain of daily. No one would respond to Launer until I contacted Tesla Media Relations. It took months, but they dropped their outrageous and unsupported demand of $2400. His system is apparently performing correctly as this story is written, but his was not the only example of Tesla ignoring a Solar City installation that we were able to remedy, and not because I am a lawyer; rather, because of this column.
Other Reasons to Be Leery of Solar – Leases and Difficulty to sell your Home
Google “Solar makes selling a house more difficult” to learn what the nice solar salespeople will not tell you. Many home buyers do not want to take over an existing rooftop installation. This is especially true if the system is leased
Birmingham, Alabama leasing attorney Barry Marks offers this observation and recommendation:
“With a lease, you do not own the equipment, the leasing company does. The lease may promise you maintenance and other service, but what if the Lessor/solar company goes bankrupt (which many have)? Worse than that, if the lease is sold by your lessor to a bank, the bank will not be obligated to provide any services at all. But you can protect yourself.
“Add language to the lease that makes the lessor or any successor holder of your lease responsible to perform maintenance, and if they refuse, this releases you from your duty of making payments. That should work, but you may need the help of an attorney to insert that language.”
It is worth a try in this Wild West world of solar.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.