Mandating solar panels on all new rooftops in South Miami will make housing less affordable. This costly mandate will hurt the future of the community by increasing home prices by more than $16,000. Taking away choice from consumers will have major implications for the future of rooftop solar.
Solar Panel Mandate Will Make Miami’s Housing Less Affordable
Residents and local officials in cities around the country are concerned about housing affordability. One such city is Miami, where even upper-middle class people are feeling squeezed by high housing prices. Two big factors affecting housing prices in Miami and other expensive areas like Southern California are strong demand and land-use restrictions that make it difficult to build new housing. One recent report by two apartment trade associations concludes that Miami is the 4th toughest U.S. city in which to build new apartments, in part due to its land regulations.
Cities also add additional mandates that increase construction costs, such as South Miami’s new ordinance that requires solar panels on all new residential construction. South Miami’s mayor, Philip Stoddard, is a fan of the ordinance and lauds its environmental benefits. But while it may reduce carbon emissions, it also makes housing more expensive.
According to energysage, the average cost of a solar panel system in Miami is about $16,000 before any government subsidies, a significant expense and just over 5% of the average construction cost of a single family home in the United States, according to the National Association of Homebuilders.
Affordable housing starts with affordable construction. Every municipal building mandate that prioritizes some other goal—e.g. the environment—over lower costs pushes adequate housing further out of reach for many lower-income people. Cities don’t need to abandon building codes that mandate a basic level of quality, but they should consider the affordability tradeoff that accompanies mandating some other goal not related to shelter or safety—no matter how worthwhile that goal may be.
Supporters of the solar panel ordinance also note that using solar power generates energy savings in the long run. But it can take approximately 11 years to recoup the upfront costs, and for some this might not be a worthwhile tradeoff.
A similar argument applies to appliance efficiency standards. Like solar panels, appliance efficiency standards designed to help the environment promise lower long-run operating costs for a higher upfront price: For example, pay $42 more for an air conditioner in order to save $7 over ten years.
For the environment’s sake, municipalities could mandate that all apartment units be outfitted with the newest and most efficient appliances rather than the older models typically found in many lower-priced apartments. Luckily, I’m not aware of a city that has done this, but as a policy it’s similar to South Miami’s solar panel mandate and would also make apartments more expensive.
More building is the solution for the affordable housing problem, but the building needs to be done in a cost-effective way to ensure that the final product is actually affordable. This means cities should allow housing of various types and quality, both with and without solar panels. Micro units, trailer parks, tenement-style housing and accessory dwelling units are all viable options for people looking for affordable shelter, even if they don’t meet some idealized image of what a home should be.
After several fires in the UK were linked to solar panels, the British government is now investigating the safety of panels being installed in the country. Representative of the solar industry points to faulty installation as the cause. Make Solar Safe urges governments to implement minimum safety standards for installing solar panels to keep homes, businesses, and first responders safe from fire hazards.
Solar panel blazes ignite safety fears
An investigation has been launched after fires at buildings, including flats and schools, fitted with the energy equipment
Fire risks posed by solar panels fitted to thousands of British homes, schools and businesses are being investigated after international warnings over the panels’ flammability.
The Building Research Establishment (BRE), a government fire safety contractor that is conducting tests on cladding after the Grenfell Tower blaze, is examining instances of solar panels catching fire and is due to report initial findings at an industry meeting this week.
About 80 firefighters fought a blaze at a new block of flats in Bow, east London, last Sunday in which the solar panels appear to have caught fire. The cause of the fire is being investigated.
A blaze last month at a block of flats in Thornton Heath, south London, is also being investigated after solar panels and cladding caught fire. Orbit, the housing organisation that owns the block, said an initial investigation indicated the fire was caused by “an overheated solar panel”.
Over the past five years solar panels have also caught fire on buildings such as Hove Town Hall in East Sussex in 2015, a Nottinghamshire primary school in 2014 and a Devon hotel in 2013.
There are about 920,000 solar panel installations in Britain, with no minimum fire safety standards for those placed on fire-resistant roofs. Systems with a low fire rating that are built into roofs must be at least 65ft from a boundary wall.
The Society of Fire Protection Engineers, an international body, has stated: “One of the many dangers to solar panels is how the panel and its mounting system impact the combustibility of the overall roof system. Some solar panels include a backing of highly combustible plastic.”
Italian research published in 2015 found that in Italy and Germany over a two-year period there had been nearly 700 fires involving solar panels. Fire tests for the study found that ethylene vinyl acetate — a material commonly used in the panels — appeared to be “a rapidly combustible material releasing gaseous fuels . . . once degraded thermally”.
Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, said the BRE study would help government and industry understand whether changes to regulations and guidance were required. Barwell said: “It is one of the safest technologies but we do need to ensure we have the highest safety standards.”
Few fires in Britain have involved solar panels and the BRE said there is no evidence to suggest the risks are greater than with other electrical equipment. It adds, however, that evidence is emerging of potential fire hazards and its website asks for UK cases to be reported.
Jonathan Bates, managing director of Photon Energy, a solar energy firm in Reading, Berkshire, said the most likely causes of fires were electrical faults as a result of incorrect installation. He said a properly installed solar panel system should pose no significant risk but some providers “cut corners”. He added: “We have seen some fairly shocking installations. Like any industry that grows very quickly, you will inevitably get cowboys.”
Chris Roberts, who chairs a working group of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, which provides quality assurance for renewable technologies, said he considered the regulations robust but that they would be reviewed in light of the BRE research.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which supports the solar panel certification scheme, said: “The government’s top priority is public safety and, while the risk of solar panel fires is extremely low, it’s only right that we work with the industry to improve safety further. That’s why we continually review our guidelines to ensure exemplary safety standards are in place.”
Read original article at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/solar-panel-blazes-ignite-safety-fears-60mvb3265?
More and more consumers are being targeted by fraudulent solar companies trying to take advantage of the growing market. Putting adequate protections in place at the state and local level can prevent companies from trying to take advantage of consumers who want to install solar on their homes.
Solar energy a growing consumer complaint
Solar energy may be the power source of the future, but it already has become one of the fastest-growing consumer complaints.
Misleading sales tactics about solar energy was flagged as one of the problems to watch in the latest survey by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.
Florida was one of 23 states with consumer protection agencies that participated in a study of the top consumer gripes in 2016.
As the solar power industry grows, so could consumer problems.
“Solar energy is good for the environment and for consumers’ pocketbooks, but there are starting to be complaints concerning misleading sales practices, confusing contracts and shoddy installation” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at CFA. “Consumers should check out the company and make sure they understand the terms of the agreement before they sign on the dotted line for solar contracts.”
The most common complaints received by the agencies dealt with autos, on such issues as misrepresentations in advertising or sales, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.
Ranked second was shoddy home construction and improvement, including contractors who failed to start or complete a project.
Consumers also complained about utilities, such as installation issues, service problems and billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, internet, electric and gas services.
“The 39 state and local consumer protection agencies in the survey received more than 203,284 complaints last year and saved or recovered $161.4 million through mediation and other actions,” the report said. “This does not include the money that people avoided losing because of their advice or the savings to businesses and court systems that resulted from their resolving complaints informally.”
Consumers’ other top complaints involved false advertising by retailers, credit disputes including mortgage fraud, misleading claims about health products and services, landlord/tenant disputes, problems with household goods, deceptive Internet sales and misrepresentations by home solicitors.
The three fastest-growing complaints were fraud, cable, phone and internet services, and health services.
“Fraud is a perennial problem, but different types of scams rise and fall in popularity,” the study said. “Apartment rental scams, bogus offers of employment, false promises of loans, phony government grants, bogus health cures, and imposters posing as local officials were cited as particularly fast-growing last year.”
New problems in 2016 that cost consumers money included passport services that accepted funding then disappeared, web sites that post mugshots of arrested people and then charge a fee to remove them, crowdfunding investments that didn’t pan out, identity thieves who gave low-income and homeless people free phones to collect their personal information, and mortgage companies withholding insurance funds from flood victims.
Consumer groups are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate deceptive practices by fraudulent solar installers that take advantage of customers looking to install solar on their homes. Common practices include misleading marketing, using contracts with confusing language, and false claims to actual energy savings. Consumers should be protected from companies trying to take advantage of the demand for solar.
Watchdog calls on FTC to investigate residential solar power industry
Campaign for Accountability asked the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open an investigation into companies that offer residential solar panels.
A review of consumer complaints filed with FTC reveals many of these companies have engaged in false and misleading acts in the marketing and sale or lease of solar panels, in apparent violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
Read the letter here.
CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens said, “Solar companies are using misleading sales practices to trick homeowners into buying or leasing solar panels. The FTC has recognized the problem, but has yet to act. The FTC should open an investigation and hold companies that violate the law accountable.”
Last summer, the FTC hosted a public workshop about consumer protection issues in solar energy. Representatives from Consumers Union and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, among others, recounted emerging problems such as contracts that contain confusing wording about energy tax credits, consumers unable to sell or buy homes that have solar panels installed, and false promises of savings on utility bills.
Following the conference, watchdog Public Citizen submitted comments to the FTC urging the commission to ban arbitration clauses in solar contracts. The National Consumer Law Center submitted comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau noting “extensive complaints of false claims as to the savings with such panels and the terms of the leases.”
In the wake of these developments, CfA submitted open records requests to several states and the FTC to examine consumers’ concerns. CfA requested complaints submitted between 2012 and the present pertaining to the sale or leasing of solar panels and their installation on the roofs of customers’ homes.
CfA reviewed more than 1,200 complaints released by the FTC. The complaints reveal a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse by solar companies. Consumers detailed how the companies deceived them about the true costs of installing solar panels, lured them in with low price quotes that later proved to be false, required them to sign confusing contracts, and promised energy savings that failed to materialize.
These tactics appear to violate the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.
Stevens continued, “Solar companies often seem to target vulnerable populations, leaving seniors and those living on fixed incomes with higher monthly utility costs and loans that often exceed what they can afford to pay, plunging them into debt. The FTC should investigate these nefarious practices and hold violators accountable.”
City of South Miami Tone-Deaf to Affordable Housing Issue
South Miami Electeds Respond From Dais, “I Hate To Burst Your Bubble, But South Miami Is Unaffordable”
SOUTH MIAMI, Fla. – When South Miami residents and businesses presented concerns during a recent commission hearing that the proposed ordinance mandating solar requirements will make South Miami more unaffordable, the Mayor and Vice Mayor refused to address concerns; instead, the commission doubled down on the argument that South Miami was unaffordable.
Mayor Philip Stoddard (1:58:43): “If you build a big house… What does a 5,000 sq. ft. house cost in South Miami? $1.5 – 2 million?”
When residents and local businesses pointed out that the Mayor’s examples continue to ignore affordable homes, the Vice Mayor added:
Vice Mayor Robert Welsh (2:03:36) “The Builders Association of South Florida sent a letter saying this ordinance will make South Miami unaffordable. Well, guess what? We’re unaffordable already… I hate to burst your bubble but South Miami is unaffordable.”
While rising property values are creating an affordable housing crisis, the City of South Miami Commission is attempting to pass an ordinance mandating solar requirements that threatens many of the community they were elected to serve.
The ordinance will mandate up to a $25,000 expense on all new houses, townhouses and many remodels within city limits making South Miami even more unaffordable and unattainable. It is imperative for the South Miami Commission to weigh the legitimate economic concerns of South Miami residents before hastily imposing a poorly thought out mandate for homeowners and home builders to put solar panels on homes in South Miami.
The local chapter of Family Businesses for Affordable Energy (FBAE) raised suggestions of ways to amend the ordinance to account for affordability that the South Miami Commission and Mayor Stoddard have largely ignored. Full letter submitted to the commission is below.
South Miami is already one of the most unaffordable communities in South Florida and city commission’s efforts to mandate solar will make it even more unaffordable. At the very least, residents should be adequately consulted before a mandate is thrust upon them, and should be made aware of the economic, legal, and safety consequences of that mandate.
On Wednesday, July 12th, the Commission will once again bring the ordinance up for a reading and vote.
The South Miami City Commission is trying to move a plan forward that would make their city the first in Florida to mandate all new homes install solar panels or other solar energy collectors and in the process take away the property owner’s rights to what they can and cannot install on their own homes.
Solar Ordinance jeopardizes individual rights of South Miami homeowners
Even though I believe in the clean and green benefits of solar energy, I do not believe the installation of solar devices should be a government-enforced mandate.
But that’s just what the South Miami City Commission will decide on July 12 when they vote on a ordinance that would require solar photovoltaic systems be installed on all newly constructed homes. Older homes would also be subjected to this requirement if more than 50 percent of its square footage is renovated.
Today, there is nothing preventing anyone from stepping up to install solar energy devices on the roof of their new or existing home. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. South Miami Mayor Stoddard and his solar co-op friends are ready to sell to homeowners solar panel systems at a discount. And, there are federal and state tax incentives for those who choose to install solar on a home or business – choose being the key word.
And while the cost of solar is decreasing, it still remains an out-of-reach luxury for many homeowners. Our county is facing an affordable-housing crisis and rising home prices are already shutting out many residents of South Miami. Hospitals, schools, and businesses will have a hard time attracting and retaining employees who will not be able to afford to live in the city where they work.
This isn’t about taking on the power company – and if you’ve read my columns in the past, you know I am not always a fan of Florida Power & Light. It’s about the individual rights of residents in South Miami.
Solar is an emotional choice, not an economic one. For Stoddard, solar is his personal crusade. But this ordinance crosses the line into forced conversion.
So no matter how much they claim the proposed ordinance would “benefit the health, safety, welfare, and resiliency of South Miami and its residents,” I say this proposed ordinance is simply an attempt to strip homeowners of their fundamental rights – and should not even be considered until all of our South Miami elected officials install solar on their own homes, homes they rent out, as well on all city buildings.
Last night the South Miami City Commission delayed voting on the solar mandate because of problems with the ordinance. FBAE is supporting the addition of safety and consumer protections to the ordinance to protect the residents of South Miami.
Consumer Protections Lacking in South Miami Solar Panel Mandate
by Jun 20, 2017|
South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard and his fellow city commissioners are convinced about two things – first, that their small 12,000 resident town is destined to be flooded by rising sea levels, and second, that their plan to force residents to buy expensive solar systems will somehow prevent the ocean from rising.
Nevermind that the very foundation of Stoddard’s deepest fear is based on questionable, ever-morphing scientific reports that can never seem to agree. Nevermind that sea levels rose in South Florida between 1930 and 1950, then dipped in the intervening years. Nevermind that naturally occuring, perfectly predictable king tides are to blame for virtually all of the current flooding and propaganda photographs touted by environmental activists who earnestly believe South Florida will eventually disappear underwater.
Nevermind all of that, because South Miami’s city commission is going to save the day with a solar panel mandate rammed down resident’s throats without any consumer protections in place, and without any concern for how poor residents can afford it, or the safety of first responders.
The South Miami City Commission has declared their solar mandate “reasonable and necessary because of local climatic, topological, and geological conditions.” The ordinance is due up for a second reading at tonights council meeting, and under city rules, a third reading could be waived, making it effective almost immediately.
Stoddard claims he’s been working on the ordinance for more than a year, but there’s been no public hearings and no public vote on the issue. And some residents aren’t happy about how things are shaping up.
“Housing and rental prices in South Miami are already too expensive. If a landlord is forced to pay $25,000 for solar panels, he’s going to make the renters pay. We need to be passing laws that make it easier for people to live in South Miami, not laws that make it more difficult,” said Rachel Walker, a South Miami resident. “The South Miami government hasn’t done any research about how this will affect the rents of South Miami. The city should be working to make our housing more affordable, not passing laws to make it more expensive.”
Indeed, the costs of solar ownership are one of the biggest reasons why solar hasn’t been widely adopted yet – consumers that do the math find they’ll actually lose money over the long run when they factor in the cost of maintenance, insurance costs, and the loss of efficiency over the lifetime of the panels, which can degrade in power output over the years. Worse, leased solar panels might actually lower the value of a property, according to the Washington Post.
Shady solar companies are starting to give the industry a bad name, by overpromising on performance, and understating the true costs of solar ownership.
But despite all the evidence, Stoddard insists poorer residents in South Miami will somehow experience a lower cost of living.
Read original at: http://thecapitolist.com/consumer-protections-lacking-in-south-miami-solar-panel-mandate/
Family Businesses for Affordable Energy (FBAE) today called on the City of South Miami to add consumer protections and conduct an impact study as part of the city’s new ordinance mandating the installation of rooftop solar collectors on all new residential construction and expansions of existing residences.
The proposed ordinance will be voted on at a public hearing by the city’s Planning and Zoning Board on June 13, 2017 before final approval can be made by the City Commission. This ordinance only “provides minimum specifications for installations, including specifications for the system’s capacity, location, and safety requirements.” The ordinance offers no consumer protections for homeowners when they purchase solar panels and no impact study has been completed to show how the ordinance will affect South Miami.
If the ordinance is passed by the South Miami City Commission, it will be the first city in Florida to mandate the installation on all new residential construction and expansions. This influx of new solar collectors could attract predatory companies seeking to take advantage of the new mandate.
In Florida consumers have seen the effects of fraudulent companies attempting to take advantage of solar customers. In 2013, BlueChip Energy sold units with counterfeit UL markings which produced electricity far below its nameplate generation capacity. After the company was liquidated to pay debts, BlueChip customers were left with no remedy to recoup their losses.
“We support requirements for consumer protections and professional installation of solar,” said Alex Ayers, Executive Director of FBAE, “however, this proposed ordinance does not ensure that to happen. Rushing a new ordinance that will affect every new home through city government in five weeks, without any consideration for consumer protections is dangerous for the residents of South Miami. I encourage the city to take a look at some of the lessons other states have learned the hard way, without adequate protections homeowners are left holding the bag after the scammers have made off with the money.”
In order to avoid more fraudulent cases like BlueChip Energy, FBAE urges the city to conduct an impact study to determine how the ordinance will affect homeowners and to include consumer protections that provide transparency and ensure professional installation of solar panels to protect new homeowners who wish to comply with the proposed ordinance.
More examples of unsafe solar panel installation and fraudulent sales tactics can be found at www.makesolarsafe.com. Family Businesses for Affordable Energy believes the only sustainable way to expand solar is to ensure consumer protections and stringent installation requirements are incorporated in policy.
Family Businesses for Affordable Energy (FBAE) is a network of family businesses across the country supporting policies that lower energy prices for small businesses. Consistently a top cost that family business face is the price of energy, both utility and fuel costs. FBAE supports common sense policy solutions on the federal and state level that reduce the cost of energy for small businesses.
An economist at the American Enterprise Institute is warning Minnesotans of a solar energy scam called community solar gardens. Salespeople prey on potential customers promising them lower energy bills and a sustainable source of power. With these promises in mind, consumers sign agreements to pay $20,000 in advance or $100/month for the next 20 years. Unfortunately for customers, Minnesota’s location is not great for solar power so investors end up paying for less solar energy than it takes to power their homes; and with a contract that is nearly impossible to break, they do so for 25 years.
By Andrew Follett
A conservative economist has said buying timeshares for solar panels is just the next “scam” to fleece environmentally friendly consumers.
Mark Perry, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, railed against “community solar gardens” in Minnesota where private companies end up pocketing taxpayer subsidies for generating relatively small amounts of green energy.
“As usual, when door-to-door salespeople present you with an offer that sounds too good to be true, and start with a pitch about ‘saving you 11% every month on your electric bill by switching to solar,’ it’s highly likely that it is too good to be true,” Perry wrote in a blog post Sunday.
Solar companies heavily encourage Minnesotans to invest big sums of money into them, but they’re extremely risky and very difficult to resell in the future. These timeshares require investors to pay $20,000 up front or $100 a month for the next 20 years in exchange for slightly lower power bills.
“In reality, it’s more like getting locked into a 20-25 year “investment” that is probably extremely risky and like a vacation timeshare could be very difficult to sell in the future,” Perry wrote.
Perry notes that solar companies are going door to door in Minnesota to sell timeshares to unsuspecting environmentalists. When investors sign on, they get locked into a 25 year-long contract that doesn’t even end up powering their house. Additionally, if the investor moves out of the area, they’re still liable for the money, making exiting the agreement virtually impossible.
The scam isn’t even generating much electricity, as Minnesota isn’t a good location for solar power.
“Of course, you have to ignore the biggest reason not to go solar in Minnesota: the weather and lack of sunlight,” Perry wrote.
Minnesota has 195 policies and incentives offering government assistance to green energy, according to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. That’s more than any other state with the sole exception of California, which is a sunnier environment far more naturally suited to solar power.
Perry notes that Minnesota’s government offers numerous financial incentives that cause taxpayers to bear much of the costs of installing rooftop solar panels for the scam. These include a state energy rebate, renewable energy credits, property tax exemptions and an exemption from the 7 percent state sales tax.
Most solar subsidies go to residential installations payments called net metering or a 30 percent federal tax credit. These solar subsidies were so lucrative that solar-leasing companies installed rooftop systems, which run at minimum $10,000, at no upfront cost to the consumer.
Solar and wind power get 326 and 69 times more in subsidies than coal, oil, and natural gas, according to 2013 Department of Energy data collected by Forbes. Green energy in the U.S. received $13 billion in subsidies during 2013, compared to $3.4 billion in subsidies for conventional sources of energy and $1.7 billion in subsidies for nuclear, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration.
Solar subsidies ultimately drive up electricity prices and aren’t viable without taxpayer support, according to a 2015 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Even proponents of solar power recognize their reliance on subsidies. Without high net metering and other subsidy payments, rooftop solar “makes no financial sense for a consumer,” Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, told The New York Times last February.
Scammers are using fake caller ID numbers to try and take advantage of San Diego utility customers by trying to sell them rooftop solar panels. The company is encouraging customers to be on the look out for these calls and to report them to authorities immediately.
SDG&E warns of phone scam using fake caller ID
SAN DIEGO — San Diego Gas & Electric warned customers Thursday of an increase in complaints about phone scammers using the name of the utility in fraudulent calls.
The most recent complaints involved people who identified themselves as being with SDG&E and selling rooftop solar panels, according to the utility.
SDG&E officials said they don’t sell or install private solar panels or work with third party companies to sell or install them on their behalf. The utility also doesn’t initiate contact via email, phone or otherwise to demand immediate payment or ask for personal information, such as bank accounts, social security numbers or other sensitive information.
Making things more confusing for customers, scammers are starting to use technology that fools caller ID systems, so their calls display “San Diego Gas & Electric” and its main customer service number, 800-411-7343, regardless of the actual source of the call.
SDG&E officials said spreading awareness of the latest fraud techniques helps residents from becoming victims.
According to the utility, energy companies nationwide are working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute scammers. People who receive a suspicious call or one that makes them feel uncomfortable should hang up, or not answer it in the first place if possible.
SDG&E encourages anyone who has been a victim of the solar scam to report any loss of money to their local law enforcement agency.