Save American jobs... AND save money on your power bill? What a deal!
Sure, we'd all like to be able to tell the power company to take their rates and stick them where the sun don't shine. The sun can help us do that. Just be careful who you hire.
"Solar energy is incredibly viable," said Duluth doctor Stephen Kushins. "The problem is unfortunately right now it's almost a shark-infested water."
Dr. Kushins just wanted to be able to set his thermostat, or turn on a light, with power he could generate himself. Green power.
He got three bids for a residential solar system and signed up with Solar Sale USA impressed with their snazzy brochure, complete with testimonials from satisfied customers.
Plus he loved their promise to install American-made panels -- listed right on their proposal -- built by a company called SolarWorld.
"So you thought your money was going toward American solar panels," asked FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis. "Absolutely," said Dr. Kushins. "That's what their brochure has in it. It says made in America, for Americans."
Trouble is, once they're up there on your roof, you can't tell who made the panels. Turns out, the ones on Dr. Kushins' home came from China. And back on the ground, the FOX 5 I-Team discovered even more deception.
We took a closer look at Solar Sale USA's brochure, all those completed jobs from across the country. Then compared it to the sales literature for SolarWorld, that huge West Coast-based company that actually manufactures all those panels.
Solar Sale is not Solar World. Yet the Georgia company stuck their name over the manufacturer's name. None of those jobs in the brochure belongs to Solar Sale USA.
Yet, this Georgia customer wound up spending $26,000.
"I certainly feel duped," admitted Kushins.
Could a tiny Georgia company really be pretending it's a major solar panel manufacturer?
An undercover FOX 5 I-Team producer invited Solar Sale USA to give us an estimate for a ranch house in Walton County. The salesman handed us the same misleading sales brochure copied from SolarWorld, then falsely claimed they were all the same company.
Here's what Solar Sale USA's Roger Spice said on hidden camera:
"SolarWorld. We have 100 percent quality control. It's actually our panel. It's made in Ohio. (OK.) So we don't have to count on the manufacturer. We are the manufacturer."
No, they're not the manufacturer. They're a company of only a couple of people with no real office.
So what does this salesman have to say for himself?
Randy: Why is your company putting your name on somebody else's product?
Spice: We're actually an installer for Solar World.
Randy: Right. You're an installer. But you're not the company. You're not this company, right?
Randy: But this brochure sure makes it sound like you're this company.
Spice: We changed the brochure since then.
Randy: Well, didn't you just give this man the same kind of brochure?
Spice: I might have, but it might have been an old one but it wasn't on purpose.
Solar Sale USA owner Joshua Barnes apologized, admitting he copied the sales materials, and his salesman, listed as the company's national sales director, should not have misled us.
OK, so how could Chinese solar panels wind up on a customer's roof? Let's see what the salesman tells people about that.
Spice: If that did happen, we'd talk to you about it.
FOX 5 I-Team undercover producer: So you'd let me know if you were using these Chinese panels.
Spice: Long before. While we're still in planning and development.
But no one told Dr. Kushins, even though Solar Sale USA listed American-made panels in their proposal.
"I feel like it was bait and switch," Kushins told us.
The company owner says the roof line configuration forced them into using different, non-American panels. Not true says the independent contractor who actually installed them.
"You could put any kind of panel up there," said Montana Busch, owner of Alternative Energy Southeast. "They gave us a tight budget and said make it work. They didn't give us any specifics on what they sold the customer."
Montana Busch says Solar Sale USA still owes him $17,000 for this job and two others. The company owner says they have no money to pay him right now, but claims what he owes Busch comes from other jobs, not the customer who wound up with panels made far away from the USA.
"We gave him what he asked for," salesman Roger Spice told the FOX 5 I-Team.
"You gave him Chinese panels," Randy pointed out.
"However that came up, if that's the concern, if he wanted a different panel, we could do that," said Spice.
Here's SolarWorld's statement about Solar Sale USA putting its name over their sales materials:
"SolarWorld is proud of developing and monitoring an excellent network of authorized installers. We regularly add and remove installers based on explicit program requirements that they "maintain professional business practices" and "deliver high-quality system designs and installations." We believe our industry must exceed quality standards. Therefore, we take seriously concerns about any firms that sell or install our products, authorized or otherwise. As a matter of fairness, however, we do not comment publicly about internal processes relating to individual firms."