Protecting health, safety and welfare
The growth of the solar industry impacts consumer in many positive ways. However, there are also negative consequences created by the industry that endanger public health, safety and welfare.
What can government officials and regulators do?
- Support law enforcement in preventing deceptive marketing tactics
- Misleading advertising, high-pressure sales tactics, limited consumer choice, and deceptive contracts are issues for consumers.
- Work to establish inter-governmental partnerships to streamline complaints about solar lease contracts.
- State consumer protection offices should work with the FTC and other partners committed to protecting solar consumers.
- Provide tools for consumers to protect their rights
- The lack of standardization in solar energy products and services makes it difficult for consumers to understand products and contracts.
- States should establish a resource center for solar energy customers.
- Enable state attorneys general to protect against fraud
- The Colorado Attorney General in 2017 initiated proceedings against the head of a solar company that kept buyers’ money without delivering the systems.
- In 2015, two solar companies admitted to fraud in Arizona, telling consumers that systems would lower their electric bills up to 75%.
- Consider adopting a Solar Consumers’ Bill of Rights
- A Bill of Rights should include a right of all factual information needed to make a well-informed purchasing or lease decision, the right to a system that meets all technological state and federal standards, the right to all consumer protection laws including a rescission period, the right to be educated on the installation process, the right to a detailed invoice and if the agreement is a lease, the right to have the installer go through the contract and have the consumer fully understand every aspect of the contract before final signatures.
Regulators should ensure net-metering avoids shifting costs to consumers who aren’t solar users. Utilities often can’t recover the significant fixed costs related to keeping solar users connected to the grid and supplying power when solar panels are not producing sufficient power. The result: non-solar customers end up bearing these additional costs.
- Enact reforms that lessen the burden on lower-income communities.
- The Louisiana Public Service Commission found that solar users “only pay 64% of what they cost the utilities,” a cost shifts of $2 million per year to non-solar customers.
- Lower income users are less likely to use solar and bear the brunt of these shifting costs: Mississippi created an additional 2 cent per kWh incentive for the first 1,000 lower income participants for 15 years.
- Some states opted for regulatory reform that diminishes the effects of solar subsidization.
- Seeking fairness in solar rules
- Non-solar customers, such as those who live in apartments, those who can’t afford solar, or those who own small businesses, help subsidize the state’s energy infrastructure.
- Calculate solar benefits based on what is actually quantifiable. Exclude non-quantifiable costs such as social benefit, which result in further cost-shifting to non-solar customers.
- Require NEM customers to pay a higher monthly fixed charge, thereby reducing the cost shift.
- Reforming NEM so that private rooftop solar customers who use the energy grid, pay for the grid.
- Explore alternative methods for accommodating solar users
- Under the Hawaii Customer Grid-Supply model, customers receive a PUC-approved credit for electricity sent to the grid and are billed at the retail rate for electricity they use from the grid.
- Minimize the risk posed by solar panels to first responders
- Firefighters can be shocked or electrocuted by panels on a roof, panels can inhibit efforts to ventilate a fire through a roof, and the weight of panels can increase risk of a roof collapsing.
- Enact or strengthen safety measures such as mandatory setbacks.
- California state law requires all solar panels to be set back at least three feet below the ridge of a roof for adequate smoke ventilation.
- Revisit state laws and regulations requiring structural engineers to evaluate the structural integrity of buildings.
- Revisit permitting process to make sure state laws and regulations effectively provide for safe installation of residential solar panels.