Utility Watchdog in San Diego

Solar Installation - Questions to Ask Before Signing the Contract

Solar Installation - Questions to Ask Before Signing the Contract  posted July 3, 2014

Have you recently received phone calls or had a sales person knock at your door about solar installations? If you are considering having solar installed in your home, understand it is important to find the right solar contractor/supplier.  

Recently, one of UCAN’s Board Members, Nancy Hartley, was asked by a company if she wanted to consider having solar installed in her home. When she made the appointment, she told the caller that she would like more information, but that she would not sign any contract at the time of the presentation. They agreed.

The presentation included information (gained from her SDG&E bill) about how many panels she would need, the quality of the panels, comparative information about other panels, how the energy gets converted from DC to AC, why they use micro-converters for each panel instead of one converter to better monitor performance, and, most importantly, how your meter will run backwards while the system is feeding energy into the grid. The manufacturer gives a 25 year warranty that each panel will not degrade more than .07 per year.  

After quoting Nancy $14,855 for the product (8 3’x5’ panels) and installation, the representative asked for her income tax information. The company rep explained that they just need to know whether she paid enough taxes to be able to benefit from the one-time $4,341 federal credit to your taxes. As a selling point, the solar installation company assumes that the customer will pay the tax credit amount directly to the company that finances the cost of the solar system and the customer will be charged no interest for 12 months. The expectation is that the customer will pay off the financing company within one year to avoid the 12% interest that will be charged on the remainder.

            The Representative also explained that if Nancy acted right away, she could lock in the 100% KWH rate. The rep explained that currently SDG&E will give a full KWH credit for every solar KWH produced, but that they are considering lowering that credit to 75% KWH in the future.

Nancy told us:

The whole experience reminded me of buying a car, complete with calling his warehouse to see if he could get me the ‘commercial’ panels which have higher quality for the same price. I told him I would like to see a contract to mull over before I make my decision and he told me he would only fill out that paperwork when/if I decided to sign. He reassured me that I could install the system at “no risk” because I could cancel in three days. I told him I don’t sign anything without seeing all the details, including the engineering assessment and specifications and he left soon after that.”

Nancy mentioned that she wanted to have a solar system installed for a while as much for the clean energy it produces as for the cost savings. She was impressed by the quality of the product and was actually considering purchasing it.

UCAN is telling you about Nancy’s experience because we believe that gaining an understanding about roof top solar installation, the cost and the process is helpful to our members. The second reason we are telling you about Nancy’s experience is because while Nancy appreciated the information, she did not appreciate the high pressure sales tactics of the salesman. Nancy wanted to have all information available to review – in writing. No matter what the salesman says, a customer making a purchase as large as roof-top solar has the right to see – in writing - the full cost of the system, the costs of financing, all incidental costs and taxes, and has the right to know how much would SDG&E pay Nancy if her solar system put power back onto the grid.  

If you are considering installing solar at your home, make sure that you are given accurate information, and have the opportunity and time to thoroughly review any contract. Be very suspect if a solar installer will not allow you to see the terms of the contract, unless you are ready to sign.

Learn more about about a pilot solar program in San Diego offering both energy storage equipment and rooftop solar.

About UCAN

UCAN has represented the interests of San Diego County utility customers since 1983. UCAN focuses its efforts on the rates and services of San Diego Gas and Electric Company, telecommunications utilities and the City of San Diego Water Department.

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