ATLANTA - If you’ve noticed those online ads making big promises for rooftop solar, authorities warn it could be just the beginning.
A new federal law promises to boost financial incentives for those who decide to power their home with solar energy. The idea is to add one more front in the fight against global warming.
But it also means a new wave of potential customers in a marketplace that still seems a lot like the Wild West.
"Good people and bad people get in," observed Sam Collier, 66, a new solar customer in the Lake Claire neighborhood of Atlanta.
"And we’ve got to help the good people and warn people about the bad people."
One sales manager wrongly claimed a $70,000 system would mean we’d never have an electric bill again.
Pink Energy fired him. Rooftop solar rarely replaces your entire utility bill. Many customers complained after financing their expensive solar systems they wound up spending even more each month for power.
Sam Collier said he's never clicked on web ads promoting solar, instead getting referrals from friends.
Collier decided to go with a local solar company, Creative Solar USA.
"It wasn’t that I thought anything would be done in a fraudulent way like some of the things you’ve uncovered," he explained. "It’s more of a sense that even when everything’s working right and above board, how much production can you get to offset how much usage?"
His estimate warned he’d still be paying Georgia Power something each month, but the total cost of his system was far cheaper than the ones we were given: under $30,000 after rebates and discounts.
The new law passed by Congress earlier this month will make those credits even bigger. It immediately raises the federal tax credit to 30% of the total cost of the system, up from 26%. It was due to drop to 23% next year. Instead, it will remain at 30% for at least the next decade.
"Every bit that helps is better," said Collier. "But this is less than an investment in the dollars for me as it was an investment in my kids’ future."
But with more money comes greater concern for deception.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office is already investigating one solar company.
In light of the new law, the AG issued a warning to not automatically believe any sales rep’s promises.
Get multiple bids. Get referrals from friends. Make sure the company uses a licensed electrical contractor.
And here’s a surprising tip: Collier thinks you should go with the company that promises the least.
"The ones that make you feel good and tell you it’s going to save the world, and you’re going to be four years paid back, they’re probably not telling you much of the truth on anything," he said with a smile.