FTC: Watch out for solar scams

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The official start of summer meant we're officially headed into some of the hottest days of the year and some of the highest electric bills.

But homeowners with solar panels love this time of the year. More Georgians are going solar, and now the government wants to make sure you don't fall for a solar scam.

This week the Federal Trade Commission held a workshop with consumer advocates and industry representatives. They agreed that consumer fraud in the solar business could harm the fast growth residential solar power is currently experiencing.

Even though adding solar panels to your home can cost thousands of dollars up front, new laws allowing Georgians to lease those panels have made it more affordable. Homeowners have been attracted by the freedom of generating their own power to sell back to the utility companies, thus reducing their overall power bill. Plus many solar advocates share a desire to help the environment.

But over the years, the FOX 5 I-Team has told you about homeowners who wish they'd done their solar homework. One man wound up with cheaper Chinese-made solar panels even though the company's proposal listed American-made panels. The installer claimed the roof line forced them to use Chinese panels, but the homeowner insisted no one told him and the cost never changed.

A Paulding County woman gave her solar installer $10,000 up front but never received any panels. Willie Akers eventually pled no contest to theft and agreed to pay back the money. When the homeowner said she had only received $300, Akers wound up back in jail on a probation violation.

Bill Entrekin loves the 25 panels on his Newton County home and the $55 Georgia Power bill he just got despite the searing summer temperatures. Still...

"I wish I had done a little more research after the fact seeing the problem that other folks have had," Entrekin admitted. His installer failed for three months to hook up his panels to the grid, meaning he missed out on all that potential energy.

"I went with the first one because he was so convincing in his statements and his claims," he remembered.

When you're an energy pioneer like Bill Entrekin, you have to be ready for those unseen dangers along the solar frontier. And that's why the Federal Trade Commission invited industry leaders this week to come up with ways to better protect consumers.

The head of the Solar Energy Industry Association pointed out it took 40 years to install their one millionth solar panel.

"That second million won't happen if the customer isn't treated right," predicted interim president Thomas Kimbis.

Other ideas considered include requiring solar companies in all 50 states present a "truth in lending" form to potential customers that spells out the true costs of solar.

Another tip: make sure a company doesn't exaggerate how fast utility rates are rising to help shorten the amount of time a customer can make back their investment. In our hidden camera investigation into one company, the salesman told us electric rates were rising 30 percent a year. The truth? The Georgia Public Service Commission said rates have risen about two percent a year. Big difference.

You can offer your own suggestions to the FTC by following this link: