The U.S. solar industry is made up of more than 9,000 companies, most of which interact with customers every day. Word-of-mouth recommendations are vital for our companies and their reputations, and the emphasis the industry places on consumer protection is one of the reasons solar has such strong approval ratings.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has developed a comprehensive suite of materials and resources for consumers and companies that are being rapidly adopted across the nation. But I’ve been hearing and reading many myths that contradict this strong commitment to consumer protection and that might discourage consumers from exercising their right to go solar. I’d like to correct some of the more common myths and misperceptions.
MYTH: The solar industry is unregulated.
FACT: The U.S. solar industry is heavily regulated today by state and federal agencies. It is subject to consumer protection laws on manufacturing, advertising, installations, contracts and more. Solar leases, for instance, follow the same regulations as other lease types that have existed for decades in a broad range of industries. The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have oversight in many areas of solar transactions, as do state attorneys general. This myth is plain false.
MYTH: Solar leases prevent home sales.
FACT: Lease providers who own the solar systems on consumers’ roofs need to make sure that both the county and potential purchasers of that home understand that the solar system is not owned by the homeowner. Therefore, the companies file notices with county offices to publicize their ownership of the PV system. These notices do not place liens on homes or prevent home sales. Many lease providers give options to consumers planning to sell their homes, including transferring the leases to the new homeowners. Some companies will even move the existing system to your new home. Solar leases, therefore, do not legally interfere with home sales.
MYTH: Solar is only for the rich.
FACT: The cost of solar in the U.S. has fallen 70% since 2010, allowing low- and moderate-income communities to benefit from clean, affordable solar energy. Utility-scale and community solar projects are choosing solar to supply power to these communities, and organizations like The Solar Foundation, Grid Alternatives and SEIA are working on ways to make solar more accessible and affordable. I can tell you that SEIA and our industry are committed to reaching all Americans, and doing so with a more diverse workforce than we have today.
MYTH: Solar companies prey on the aged and uninformed.
FACT: At SEIA, consumer protection is at the top of our list. The reputation and ability to sell solar depends on treating our customers right. Like every industry in our nation, solar has a few bad apples, and they target the most vulnerable. We’re working hard with states and federal agencies to put those bad actors in jail. They’re unwelcome in our industry. The vast majority of solar companies put consumers first and build their businesses on satisfied customers.
MYTH: There is no good way to resolve consumer complaints.
FACT: Under its consumer protection committee, SEIA has established a Solar Business Code with a complaint resolution process in which customer complaints are taken seriously and addressed properly. SEIA sends complaints to solar companies and engages in resolution of those complaints. SEIA meets regularly with government officials, both state and federal, to discuss solar industry practices, SEIA’s consumer protection work, and ways to help consumers. The Better Business Bureau is using our code in all 114 of its local offices. Our complaint resolution process complements government actions, and some governments have even begun referring consumer complaints back to SEIA to resolve under our complaint resolution process.
MYTH: Shopping for solar is too confusing.
FACT: SEIA’s Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power gives consumers key tips to better understand their options for going solar and key questions to ask a solar installer. SEIA has developed disclosure forms that summarize key contract terms. The forms help consumers better understand offers and compare pitches from different companies. SEIA has released disclosure forms for leases, power purchase agreements and sales.
MYTH: There is nothing guiding solar companies in ethical best practices.
FACT: SEIA develops educational materials, maintains a consumer protection portal on its website, promotes consumer protection resources at conferences and provides free webinars on consumer protection. SEIA has developed a Solar Business Code that covers advertising, marketing and consumer interactions, and contracts rules to protect consumers while promoting competition. SEIA is developing compliance guides to help companies understand what they need to do to comply with ethical best practices.
Solar is now a mainstream energy choice, with hundreds of thousands of new residential solar systems being installed each year. SEIA is dedicated to ensuring that customers have all the information they need to make smart decisions when they choose to go solar, and the resources available on our consumer protection portal are designed to meet those needs. Solar only works for America if it keeps its good name. All of us associated with SEIA’s consumer protection efforts are working hard to ensure that our industry does just that.
Tom Kimbis is executive vice president of SEIA.