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Consumer Complaints Reveal Solar Companies Ignoring Ethics Code

A solar industry trade group is advising customers that they can rely on its members to deal fairly, but the hundreds of consumer complaints against several members suggest otherwise.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a group of about 1,000 companies involved in various aspects of solar energy, recently released a 6-page guide for residential consumers designed “to make ‘going solar’ as effortless and streamlined as possible.”

In addition to basic technical information about solar panel leasing and power generation, the guide also includes tips for identifying deceptive marketing practices, such as exaggerating energy savings or failing to disclose the full cost of a solar panel system. (RELATED: SOLAR SCAMS: Arizona Moves to Protect Homeowners)

Such practices have gained attention in recent months as consumers have sought redress from state governments, and some perpetrators have already paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and settlements.

The SEIA guide encourages consumers who do not wish to be victimized to ask whether their solar company is “a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade association for solar that requires all its members to abide by a Code of Ethics.” (RELATED: Solar Industry Demands Extension of Subsidies)

Yet that might not be quite as reassuring as it’s intended. While the SEIA’s code of ethics does address the various behaviors underlying previous consumer complaints, consumer complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau against SEIA members suggest that compliance with the policy is somewhat less than universal.

SolarCity, for instance, has had 190 complaints filed against it in the last three years, including 118 in the past 12 months. In addition, all four of the consumer reviews submitted to BBB report a “negative experience” with the company.

One review, posted by a community church, alleges that SolarCity representatives had promised that installing solar panels would reduce the church’s energy bills by 50 percent. When the savings failed to materialize, SolarCity responded blithely that the church should expect to see “some savings” within the next 20 years.

“They broke their word and contract; we would never recommend them,” the reviewer concludes. (RELATED: Rampant Fraud Pervades Rooftop Solar Industry)

Other SEIA member companies have also been hit with large numbers of complaints, most of them related to “problems with product/service.”

SunRun Inc has had 92 complaints leveled against it over the last three years, including 40 in the last 12 months. Of the 94 complaints filed in the last three years against Vivint Solar, which is not accredited by the BBB, 66 were submitted within the last year.

The consumer reviews for both companies were also universally negative, detailing accusations of property damage, promised savings that turned out to be illusory, and in one case, a $32,000 price tag for removing the panels despite assurances that removal could be done at any time for just $500.

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