Court’s ruling favors IID in Riverside County ordinance repeal

A California Court granted a preliminary injunction in favor of a public utility saying that the Riverside County ordinance would cause irreparable harm to the Imperial Irrigation District. The ordinance was pushed for by a private business owner in Riverside County and would have benefited his solar development company directly. Without the preliminary injunction the solar company, Energy Alliance, would have been able to market solar panels to customers with higher energy reimbursement rates than what is required by state law. This is a win for consumers who would have been defrauded when reimbursement rates were paid at state mandated rates. 

Court’s ruling favors IID in Riverside County ordinance repeal

LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles County Superior court judge Tuesday, November 6 granted a preliminary injunction preventing the county of Riverside from implementing a controversial ordinance that, if enacted, would bypass the authority of the Imperial Irrigation District to set electric rates for its customers, according to a recent press release.

In granting the injunction, Judge Mary Strobel found that the county’s ordinance conflicts with state law and, if enacted, would cause irreparable harm to the district, Frank Oswalt, IID’s general counsel, reported.

Although no final rulings were made, Oswalt said in the press release the court determined there was a likely probability that IID would prevail if the matter were fully contested. Further, should the ordinance be enacted, the IID board and staff would be irreparably harmed by the prescribed criminal penalties in the ordinance, and the district harmed by the millions in unrecoverable costs to implement it.

In June, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved Ordinance No. 943, that would have required IID to scrap its publicly vetted and board-adopted solar tariff, net energy billing and create a new solar tariff that closely resembles that of a privately owned utility, Southern California Edison. All this was set in motion at the request of a private business owner whose business is located in Riverside County and stands to directly benefit financially from the impacts of this ordinance.

“The notion that Riverside County would usurp IID’s ratemaking authority and adopt an ordinance that violates state law is inherently unreasonable and unprecedented,” said James Hanks, IID board president, in the release. “Today’s action by the court is a win for the district and its ratepayers.”

In making her ruling, Judge Strobel also noted several potential areas in which the county’s ordinance may conflict with the Public Utilities Act.

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IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance

Additional details explaining the corrupt passage of Riverside County’s solar reimbursement came out during an Imperial Irrigation District meeting. According to lawyers for the district, Riverside County officials violated open meetings laws in determining who was going to vote for the contentious ordinance. The ordinance was already under scrutiny after details emerged that the ordinance was pushed by a private solar developer, Energy Alliance, including a promise for the developer to pay for court costs, effectively bribing the county into passing the change. If the change were to become law it would have a negative impact on Riverside County residents. Energy Alliance would be able to market solar panels to customers promising higher energy reimbursement rates than the utility is required to pay by state law.

IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance

By: Imperial Valley Press

LA QUINTA — The Imperial Irrigation District is alleging Riverside County was in violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, when Riverside officials “lined up votes” outside of the public’s purview on an ordinance the district is now suing over.

What’s more, due to the alleged Brown Act violations, the district sent a letter from one of its attorneys demanding that the ordinance in question be rescinded or that Riverside County face additional legal challenges from the district.

The allegations were made public Tuesday at the district’s monthly meeting in La Quinta during a presentation by attorneys for Aguirre and Severson LLP, an outside law firm hired by the district to make a California public records request on its behalf.

The district is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Riverside County over the approval of Ordinance 943, a law passed by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in June compelling the IID to provide additional incentives to electrical customers who have installed solar panels on their properties.

IID officials are opposed to the ordinance, saying that at stake is the district’s authority to set its own rates and that the district is already in compliance with California state law.

“IID’s business model allows the district to offer its customers some of the lowest residential electric rates in California — rates that are as much as 50 percent lower than that of neighboring investor-owned utilities. The ordinance, should it be implemented, jeopardizes these rates and sets a bad public policy that has the potential to impact other public power providers across the state,” IID communications specialist Robert Schettler said in a statement.

The ordinance passed by Riverside County — which is not in effect, but in a court-ordered stay while the suit makes its way through legal proceedings — establishes new regulations and procedures for irrigation districts like IID that are operating net-energy metering programs. Net-energy metering is a program designed to benefit customers who generate their own electricity, usually via rooftop solar panels.

The Brown Act violation allegations are believed to be contained in a series of correspondence Aguirre and Severson requested between Riverside County officials and staff and principals in Renova Energy, a private solar installation company based in Palm Desert that appears to have pushed for the ordinance according to a series of emails.

“Because of the rather troubling aspects of the way this thing was passed, we asked outside counsel to make a public records request,” IID General Counsel Frank Oswalt said.

Oswalt said Riverside County responded to the records request Oct. 2 and within a series of email correspondence attorneys believed they found two emails, or examples, in which the Brown Act was violated.

The Brown Act states, Oswalt said, that a legislative body such as the Riverside County Board of Supervisors “shall not outside a meeting, use a series of communications to discuss, deliberate or take action” on a subject within its jurisdiction.

In a letter to the Riverside County board from IID Deputy County Counsel Joanna Smith Hoff:

“Email correspondence produced by [Riverside] County reveal extensive, non-public solicitation and collection of votes by Supervisor V. Manuel Perez at the insistence of [Renova Energy owner Vincent] Battaglia. For example, by email dated May 5, 2018, Supervisor Perez urged Thomas S. Freeman, a senior Perez staff member:

‘Tom, let’s count the votes. Use this information and the fact that Renova will indemnify. If votes still not there, we will need Vince (Battagalia) to knock on those doors to get us there.’”

Smith Hoff’s letter goes on to cite a second email where Perez lobbies Riverside County Deputy Chief Executive Officer Brian Nestande on May 1:

“Hey Brian, what are we waiting on now? Let’s move this forward. Let’s count the votes. V. Manuel Perez”

Smith Hoff writes: “It is clear from the above emails that Supervisor Perez worked through intermediaries to develop concurrence on Ordinance 943 out of public view and prior to any public consideration of the matter by the board.”

Further, IID alleges in Smith Hoff’s letter that the email correspondence also shows “a secretly negotiated indemnity agreement between Mr. Battaglia and his companies (Renova and ERA) on the one hand, and the county of Riverside on the other, that preceded any public board consideration or action in connection with the adoption of Ordinance 943.”

“We see this letter,” Smith Hoff writes, “as providing you [Riverside] an opportunity to rectify an illegal action avoiding the need for further litigation.” From the date of the letter, Oct. 12, the IID has given Riverside County 30 days to respond or be subject to legal action.

Riverside County officials deny any wrongdoing.

“The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has and will continue to adhere to the requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The allegations by the Imperial Irrigation District have no merit. Board members did not engage in any serial meetings in advance of the ordinance’s introduction and adoption. The recent disclosure of emails in response to IID’s public records request does not change the fact that there were no serial meetings,” Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.

Aguirre and Severson partner Maria Severson took the IID Board of Directors and those assembled at Tuesday’s meeting through a history of the “behind-the-scenes” development of the ordinance by way of a chain of emails outlining negotiations between Battaglia, Perez and others. There was a specific call to arms against the IID from Battaglia, according to the emails. Battaglia makes references to going to “war” with IID and in another instance calling the IID Board of Directors “rogue, corrupt and environmentally tone-deaf” through the development of the ordinance and the alleged negotiation of the indemnity agreement.

IID is “wasting rate payer money challenging a law they know they have no right to challenge,” Battaglia said Wednesday. “We addressed this Brown Act business. They are throwing anything at the wall to try to make it stick.”

Battaglia said the IID is trying to “paint it as if this greedy solar guy is trying to bring net-metering back. … It’s a just a game they are playing now trying to smear me. … It’s a cartel down there. I understand that mentality; I’m just not going to put up with that.”

He added that any dealings he had with Riverside County officials was above board and legal.

No action was taken on the Brown Act issue by the IID board, as the issue was placed on the meeting agenda as an information-only item. None of the board members nor IID General Manager Kevin Kelley commented on the issue; Oswalt advised, “In fact, it would probably be inappropriate for the board to comment on it.”

Meanwhile, IID filed suit against Riverside over the ordinance back on July 13 in Riverside County Superior Court. The ordinance in question has not gone into effect, as the IID won a stay pending further consideration of the merits of the case. The parties are next due in court Nov. 6 in Los Angeles, seen as a neutral site by the court.

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Brooklyn ‘Top Chef’ Admits He Poisoned Neighbor’s Tree

Adam Harvey pleads guilty to poisoning his neighbors’ tree for blocking his solar panels. Fortunately for the neighborhood, the tree did not die. Harvey must serve 20 days community service and pay a fee of $3,694 in restitution for his herbicide attack on the tree.

 Brooklyn ‘Top Chef’ Admits He Poisoned Neighbor’s Tree

Bar Salumi co-owner Adam Harvey pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Criminal Court to trying to kill a neighbor’s silver maple tree, records show.

by Cathleen Culliton

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK — The celebrity chef pleaded guilty to poisoning his neighbor’s tree and must now serve 20 days of community service, court records and reports show.

Former “Top Chef” Adam Harvey admitted in Brooklyn Criminal Court Monday that he snuck into his Windsor Terrace neighbor’s backyard, drilled holes into her tree and filled those holes with herbicide in April, court records show.

The celebrity chef, who co-owns Bar Salumi in Park Slope, will pay $3,694 in restitution for hurting the silver maple tree, which his attorney, Bruce Maffeo, told the New York Post was not killed by Harvey’s herbicide endeavors.

Harvey first landed in trouble when his neighbor spotted a masked Harvey drilling holes into the tree he had previously complained was blocking light to the rooftop solar panels on his Seeley Street home, according to a criminal complaint.

Prosecutors charged Harvey with criminal mischief and criminal trespass during his arraignment in Brooklyn Criminal Court on May 15.

Harvey turned down a plea deal last month that called for 35 days community service, the Post reported.

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Colorado Springs Utilities warns about solar panel scam

Colorado Springs put out a warning to residents of a scammer posing as Colorado Springs Utility offering free solar energy. The scammer placed calls advertising free solar panels. Unfortunately, scams in the solar industry are becoming more common. Before signing any contract be sure to check with your local utility and make sure it is real. Make Solar Safe will continue updating consumers on discovered solar scams.


Colorado Springs Utilities warns about solar panel scam 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) – “We had a few reports last week of phone calls being made with someone posing as Colorado Springs Utilities offering free solar energy … which those were not legitimate calls.”

As Ellen Thommensen explained, Colorado Springs Utilities sent out an alert about a new scam after getting several calls from concerned residents about the “program.”

Phil Brodhagen, Peak View Solar’s owner said he has seen several scams surrounding solar panels.

He’s got some advice for anyone questioning an offer from a solar company.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” Brodhagen said.

He told 11 News several companies offer “free” solar panels, which are actually zero money down up front solar panels, but buyers still pay a lot more than they expect.

“You will see that advertised all the time,” Brodhagen explained.

Colorado Springs Utilities suggested if anyone had any questions about solar purchases or scams such as this one, you can find answers at CSU.org.

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The problem with metering solar energy customers

Net metering is offsetting the cost of maintaining the grid for non-solar users and utilities. Costs many seem to forget about, such as costumer support, billing, and transportation are becoming a great expense for utilities having to buy low cost energy from solar users at a retail price. These expenses are shifting costs to ratepayers that are not solar. Solar users avoiding their share of the grid from retail net-metering has made it excessively more difficult for utilities to maintain capacity for the grid at fair costs. Make Solar Safe supports states making better solar practices for all consumers. 

The problem with metering solar energy customers

By Josh T. Smith

New Hampshire, Arizona, Maine, and several other states are making changes to their net metering policies for solar energy. New Hampshire recently upheld the governor’s veto of a net metering expansion bill and Arizona is fleshing out a replacement for net metering. Net metering policies determine what rooftop solar owners are paid for the electricity they feed onto the electrical grid.

Generally, it requires that utilities pay the retail rate for electricity that rooftop solar panels produce rather than the lower rates that they pay other electricity generators. That means that a solar customer who consumes about 900 kWh in a month but produces 1,000 kWh from their panels will be paid the retail rate for the excess 100 kWh. If the figures were reversed, then they would be charged for the 100 kWh difference.

Net metering is meant to promote rooftop solar adoption and green electricity supplies, yet it does so at high cost. Net metering moves the share of grid maintenance costs rooftop solar owners would normally be paying onto average utility customers — including lower-income households. 

Net metering’s cost-shift starts with how utilities charge customers for their electricity and services. Even though the costs a utility faces come from multiple sources, they largely collect their revenues from total sales.

Costs, in turn, come largely from maintaining capacity — things like having powerlines that can carry enough electricity for periods of peak demand and keeping generators on-call for when more generation is needed. There are also several fixed costs, like customer support and billing, which must be met no matter how much electricity a customer consumes that month.

This mismatch between revenues and costs makes net metering a threat to the business models of utilities across the nation. When a customer installs rooftop solar panels, they can dramatically reduce the costs the utility can charge them for since they consume significantly less electricity. That means that even if a utility spends $45 to 70 on ensuring that a consumer has power whenever they flip a light switch or plug into an outlet, the utility recoups none of those costs if the consumer’s production equals their consumption.

This $45 to 70, as estimated by Brookings Institution utility expert Lisa Wood, is the cost-shift from a single rooftop solar customer to non-solar customers when the rooftop solar customer pays a bill of zero. This doesn’t happen all of the time, but one summary of 11 different estimates of this cost-shift ranged from about $440 a year to around $1,600 a year. An estimate for the California Public Utilities Commission found that $1.1 billion of costs would be shifted each year by 2020.

The size of the cost-shift is debated amongst researchers, but no one seriously debates its existence. Studies have found strong evidence of the cost-shift under a variety of conditions and rules. For example, one 2015 paper by five engineers and electricity policy experts found that the cost-shift existed under each of the eight different policies they examined in simulations of 12 different electrical grid systems.

The cost-shift also creates regressive effects. It moves costs from the wealthy to middle-class and poor consumers. A 2018 Berkeley National Laboratory report of solar adoption and incomes in 13 states estimated that the median income of solar adopters was 54 percent higher than the median incomes of non-solar adopters. In dollar terms, that is a difference of more than $30 thousand a year.

Since the cost-shift is largely driven by poorly designed electricity rates, a straightforward policy change is to more closely associate costs and utility charges. Utilities should introduce charges for capacity, costs related to making sure the lights come on whenever consumers want them to, and fixed charges for things like billing and other customer services, alongside the existing charges for total electricity consumption. 

Indeed, the authors of the 2015 study suggest just that, utilities should make their electricity rates reflect sources of costs instead of relying on total sales alone to cover everything. Adding demand charges and fixed charges would go a long ways towards ending the regressive cost-shift that current net metering policies create.

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‘Top Chef’ star turns down plea deal for allegedly poisoning neighbor’s tree

Top chef Adam Harvey shows little remorse in court for trespassing and poisoning his neighbors seven-story-tall maple tree last June. The tree that has been around for over 60 years was targeted for blocking the young chef’s solar panels. Apparently to Harvey, being a rooftop solar owner gives him the right to take the law into his own hands. Harvey was offered a generous plea deal of no-jail-time in exchange for accepting a class-A misdemeanor and serving 35 days community service. He refused the offer and is due back in court in early October. If convicted, he may be facing up to a year locked up.

‘Top Chef’ star turns down plea deal for allegedly poisoning neighbor’s tree

By Emily Saul

What a sap!

Bad-boy chef Adam Harvey turned down a no-jail plea deal Wednesday for allegedly committing arborcide on a neighbor’s maple tree, as his attorney blasted the Brooklyn district attorney’s office for blowing his client’s case out of proportion.

The chef is accused of poisoning the elderly woman’s seven-story-tall tree because it blocked the solar panels on his $1.5 million Windsor Terrace home.

Prosecutors say he was seen drilling holes in the maple’s trunk, after his retired neighbor refused his assistance to cut down the tree, which she insisted was very much alive.

As of Wednesday, the tree’s condition was not immediately clear.

But Harvey lawyer Bruce Maffeo said prosecutors are “playing to the peanut gallery” because of the publicity surrounding the former “Top Chef” contestant’s alleged crime against flora.

Prosecutors Wednesday offered Harvey — an owner of Bar Salumi in Gowanus — a no-jail plea, in exchange for copping to a class-A misdemeanor and serving 35 days community service.

Harvey, who remained silent through the court appearance, declined the offer through his attorney.

“This was a neighborhood dispute that has been completely blown out of proportion, and gone viral and criminal,” Maffeo said following the appearance. “It was a dying tree that posed danger to my client and his young family.”

Maffeo, who recently repped MMA champ Conor McGregor following his Barclays scuffle, added that violent criminals are often offered better plea deals than the one his client just turned down.

“Hopefully the DA’s office will see reason, which so far they haven’t,” he said.

Harvey is due back in court Oct. 3.

If convicted on charges of criminal mischief and trespassing, he faces up to a year behind bars.

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Firefighters concerned about growing solar panel business, training for solar panel involved fires

Solar fires are steadily increasing, and first responders are expressing concerns on the effect solar panels and flames have when combined. Firefighters prepare to fight fire by extensive training. However, solar panels have created a dangerous electrical hazard many are unprepared for. First responders must be educated on how to disable a panel to avoid electrical shock, but many are learning on the spot. This involves knowing if the panel can be shut off and how to prevent the panel from absorbing any energy. Additional problems involving solar fires is the potential collapse of a roof under the pressure of panels and harmful toxins from the smoke. Firefighters encourage consumers considering going solar to leave one side of the roof open and free of panels for fire safety. Make Solar Safe recommends finding a trusted solar company that works with the local fire department to better protect consumers. 

Firefighters concerned about growing solar panel business, training for solar panel involved fires

By Lynda Weed

YORK COUNTY — The way firefighters do their job is changing. Solar panels are becoming more and more common and these green energy savers are also causing a concern to our first responders.

Firefighters are prepared to fight flames but the growing green trend is putting fire fighting dangers on the back burner and creating an additional electric hazard.

Dale Good is the President and C.E.O of Paradise Energy Solutions in Lancaster County. He says if firefighters are not aware that those solar panels are energized that there is a danger.

Chad Deardorff is the Deputy Fire Chief for York City. He says the firefighters in York and surrounding communities are learning about the dangers of solar panels and flames when combined.

He says the first thing they look for once on the scene of a solar involved fire is damage to the panels and if they have the ability to shut the panels down.

Deardorff says “There’s a severe risk of electrical shock for our personnel” if the panels are not properly disconnected.

Bradley Dunham is a Fire Marshal for the Pennsylvania State Police. He says emergency responders need to know how to isolate the panels to avoid injury and that firefighters must avoid any interaction with the possibly still energized panels.

Even damaged wires and damaged panels can still be energized. Dunham says firefighters must also prevent the panels from soaking in any more energy. This is important to remember even when the sun is set.

“Fire trucks at a scene and even the white light to illuminate what firefighters are doing is enough to reactivate the solar panels for them to produce electricity.” Dunham continued to say firefighters can use black roof tarps to cover the panels.

Firefighters used black roof tarps to handle a fire involving a solar array this past July in Adams County. It was on Kevin Drive in Oxford Township where first responders say solar panels made their job more difficult.

Dale Good from Paradise Energy Solutions tells us that not leaving enough space around an array sets firefighters up for potential injury. He encourages other solar panel companies and homeowners to leave one side of the roof open and free of panels.

“Some people may put more panels on a roof than what we do.” Good went on to say “The codes are out there for good purposes to protect the fire fighters.”

Professionals say a panel packed roof has the potential to collapse under fire conditions and also prevents emergency crews from venting a burning home. There’s also additional toxic smoke from burning panels that firefighters are concerned about

Deardorff did assure us that despite the dangers involving solar panels and fire that the York City Fire Department will always put the safety of residents first. “We’re here to protect whatever is thrown our way and that’s what we train for.”

As for homeowners who plan on putting solar panels on your house, professionals say the best thing you can do is to buy from a trusted company that works in partnership with your local fire department.

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Net metering is a lose-lose situation for taxpayers

Commercial energy producers are complaining about a recent change in New Hampshire’s net metering law that limits their ability to take advantage of a program meant for home owners. Net metering gives homeowners the ability to sell extra electricity produced by rooftop solar panels back to the grid at high rates. The policy shifts the cost of grid maintenance to non-solar users and allowing commercial producers to sell electricity at these high rates instead of wholesale rates paid to other commercial producers is unfair to ratepayers and net-metering users.

Net metering is a lose-lose situation for taxpayers

To The Daily Sun,

In response to the August 22 Letter from Tony Guinta and the August 23 article by Thomas Caldwell on Net Metering: Governor’s veto, as a 5 MW power plant (Solar, Hydro or BioMass) is not a residential installation, but a commercial energy producer, and as such should be paid the same rates as any other commercial energy producers.

The 1 MW limit was established to allow home owners and small business owners to offset the high cost of Electricity in this state, not to make a for-profit electricity generator company cash at the expense of the rest of the rate payers. Land required per MW is approx 5 acres (setbacks excluded). So a 5 MW system would require 25-30 acres of land.

The Bill Sponsors — Bob Giuda and Kevin Avard — advocate for the override of the Veto. If the bill sponsors wanted to use the bill for the benefit of the Biomass Industry they should not have tied it to the Net Metering bill … these are two separate issues.

The Net Metering restrictions in place keep large commercial solar and wind farms (by out-of-state firms) from disrupting the landscape. There will be no benefit to the tax payers of NH if the large commercial solar firm come to NH to install systems under subsidies, it make them more money, but does not increase the commercial taxes collected, which is a lose-lose situation for taxpayers. Instead of large power lines, which were successfully fought, along the Northern Pass, you would have eye sore large Solar farms and Wind Turbines all over the state. Most recently, there was a proposal for a 25 MW, 80,000 panel solar system in Sanbornton on private land in a rural-residential area by a Colorado firm, that would have been put on old farm fields and woodlands. The proposal would have clear-cut 50 acres of forest in the forest conservation district of the town. These are the types of projects that will flood into NH by out-of-state firms that want to reap the benefit of the subsidies without any benefit to the taxpayers. That same Sanbornton project would have been on land owned by Mr. Guinta and his family. Thus, he has a slight conflict of interest beyond his push for the “veto override” for just the City of Franklin’s growth. We all support the use of Solar and Wind projects. These commercial entities should be encouraged to come to NH, but not subsidized by the taxpayers. Let the commercial firms, large and small, in-state and out-of-state, pay their fare share to the tax base. Save the subsidies for the local homeowners that put solar panels on the rooftops, like the subsidies were meant for. Keep the VETO in place!

Mark Larocque

Gilford

Read more at: https://www.laconiadailysun.com/opinion/letters_to_editor/net-metering-is-a-lose-lose-situation-for-taxpayers/article_943fc926-a79b-11e8-ba2d-e3b252cfc901.html

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Home-alarm ripoffs and solar energy installation scams target more consumers

Consumers need to be on high alert regarding solar energy installation scams. Consumers signing up for solar installations are oftentimes given misleading informationon lease terms, billing rates, or left with damaged roofs. Survey suggest the most targeted by these scams are among the elderly and disabled. Make Solar Safe believes in the right to protect consumer safety.  

Home-alarm ripoffs and solar energy installation scams target more consumers

By Carol Wolf

Auto-sales scams and home-repair ripoffs continue to plague U.S. consumers, but home alarm system sales and solar energy installations are among the newly emerging areas where consumers need to be on alert, according to a Consumer Federation of America survey of local consumer agencies from 23 states. Many of the various scam categories that topped the list of consumer complaints in 2017 involved elderly or disabled individuals, the CFA said.

For alarm sales, scammers are sending out letters that look like they come from government agencies warning homeowners that neighborhoods might be unsafe because of the opioid crisis. The letters said the government agency was offering ‘free’ alarm systems, when in fact the contracts are loaded with clauses that could drain consumer pockets.

“Alarm systems are supposed to protect consumers, but consumers need better protection from rogue alarm companies and salespeople who try to take advantage of them,” said Susan Grant, CFA’s director of consumer protection and privacy.

Customers signing up for solar- panel installations are often lied to about the extent of credits offered by the government or are told the installations will eliminate their electric bills, the CFA said. In other cases, incompetent installers damaged roofs. 

Auto-related misrepresentations about used and new car sales as well as faulty repairs, auto leasing and towing disputes topped the list of complaints. Home-improvement and construction complaints related to shoddy workmanship or a failure to start or complete a job ranked second highest for issues that rankled consumers.

“When the car you just bought breaks down or the roofer takes your deposit and disappears, it’s not just an inconvenience, it’s a disaster,” Grant said. “These problems can cause significant financial and physical hardship for consumers.”

Among the scams reported, in Utah, an auto repair shop employee told an elderly traveler, who had stopped to get ice, that their RV tires were worn and dangerous. The shop charged the traveler $500 more than the quoted price for the tires and never got express authorization for the amount charged.

An elderly woman in Pennsylvania gave an unlicensed contractor $10,000 for roof repairs and interior work. The woman’s home health care worker had recommended the worker, who did the demolition work but never returned, leaving the home uninhabitable.

Consumer complaints related to internet sales, utilities and fraud of all kinds were the top three fastest-growing areas of complaint, the annual survey of local consumer agencies found. Complaints to the 38 local agencies surveyed numbered 908,595 last year, and the agencies reported recovering or saving consumers about $2 billion through mediation, lawsuits and other actions, according to the Federation’s survey.

The top consumer complaints for 2017 were:

Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, auto leasing, and towing disputes.

Home improvement/construction: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.

Retail sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.

Credit/debt: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.

Landlord/tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics.

Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform.

Communications: Misleading offers, installation issues, service problems, billing disputes with phone and internet services.

Health Products/services:Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, medical billing issues.

Household goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.

(Tie) Home Solicitations: Misrepresentations, abusive sales practices, and failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations; Internet sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases; Travel: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, cancellation and billing disputes. 

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IID claims Riverside ordinance on solar energy is illegal

A solar development company has convinced Riverside County, California to promote a potentially illegal policy that will have a negative consequence for their customers in order for the company to make more profit. Energy Alliance agreed to pay the court fees for a potential lawsuit in exchange for a policy of increased payouts by the area utility, however the government run utility has a state mandated payout structure at a lower rate than the county prescribed. Under the policy, Energy Alliance could sell rooftop solar panels to customers promising the county mandated retail rate for selling excess power back to the grid, but the utility would pay the wholesale rate, a significantly lower rate set by the state, possibly leading consumers to being unable to afford their new solar panels. Energy Alliance has effectively bribed Riverside County in order to make more money from consumers interested in moving to solar.

IID claims Riverside ordinance on solar energy is illegal

By Betty Miller

IMPERIAL – Antonio Ortiz, the Imperial Irrigation District’s government affairs officer, gave an update on a lawsuit filed by the District against Riverside County’s Ordinance 943, a mandate telling the District what to pay Riverside residents for rooftop solar over-generation. Ortiz gave his report during the Wednesday, July 25 regular board meeting.

Over a year ago, on March 7, 2017, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors directed its staff to propose an ordinance to require the IID to reinstitute the net energy metering solar tariff for their customers living in the unincorporated areas of Riverside County. That area includes close to 22,000 households and businesses.

Ortega said IID sent representatives to Riverside to argue the ordinance would be contrary to state law. The California legislature, moved by residential solar developers, required utilities, including the IID, to offer net energy metering solar tariffs, until the megawatts reimbursed was equivalent to five percent of that utility’s peak load. Under the law, utilities were mandated to pay rooftop solar homeowners retail for their over-generated electricity instead of buying it back at wholesale prices.

The IID met the State requirement in the first quarter of 2016, according to Ortega, and voluntarily extended the net energy metering solar payback to additional applicants until the utility exceeded the state mandate.

After the program was fulfilled, the IID board adopted a successor solar tariff, net energy billing, with the difference being the retail buyback rate. Since changing to net energy billing, IID customers have installed close to 900 solar systems, he said.

IID officials said it appeared Riverside had discontinued its ordinance, until a residential solar developer promised Riverside County they would pay all court costs if the ordinance was challenged. Riverside County then unanimously adopted Ordinance No. 943. In response, the IID filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate July 13 asking the Superior Court for an order to stop the enforcement of the ordinance and ultimately rescind it altogether.

Because the IID’s power rates charged to customers is one of the lowest in the State, the retail price is also lower to buy back the over-generated power produced by solar rooftop panels.

Riverside solar companies have said the 22,000 houses in IID’s electrical grid cannot have solar panels because the price does not pencil out to pay for the installation. That is why the Riverside County Board of Supervisors mandated the IID pay at the higher retail rate charged by the other electrical company in the area.

IID General Manager Kevin Kelley said Riverside is encroaching on the District’s rate setting. He reminded board members that embedded in the Riverside ordinance are criminal sanctions if it is not followed.

Maria Severson, outside counsel for the District, agreed the ordinance was unusual with one government entity dictating to another. It gives the IID 90 days to comply or they would be subject to escalating criminal penalties, starting with a misdemeanor and adding fines and penalties.

Besides Riverside dictating how much the district pays for over-generation of electricity, if too many people participate, it affects the whole IID grid and the ability to distribute energy, Kelley added. The IID is forced to pay retail in buying back the unused energy, even though it could buy energy cheaper on the open market or generate their own, he explained.

The ordinance is unlawful, Severson told the board. Once the state has occupied a field of law, enacted law, she said, Net Energy Metering does not allow counties or other public entities to enact laws to re-regulate a State law, because it has already been regulated by the State.

Also, before Riverside docketed the ordinance, they admitted they entered into an indemnification agreement between the solar developer, Energy Alliance, and the county.

“The agreement was signed in early June by the County chair, and what you have is a for-profit company,” Severson said. “A developer, with a potential market of 22,000 homes to sell solar panels to, is proposing the ordinance and has told the county that if you get sued, if this is challenged, we will pay for it, don’t worry about it. Under the laws of California, that is a question of whether that is lawful.”

Kelley said in addition to the potential unlawfulness of the ordinance, the courts should not allow the two valleys to fight over IID’s rate structure. Solar power companies say that with IID’s low rate for over-generation, it does not pencil out for homeowners to install solar panels.

Ortega mentioned the solar developer’s business model does not succeed without government aid, in this case, it would be payments by the IID equaling what the higher charging Southern Edison pays. Ortega called it “welfare.”

“What makes this especially bad,” said Ortega, “you are giving aid to an area and companies that need it least. Usually welfare is to those that have the need. But it shifts from a poor community paying welfare to a rich community.”

IID Director Bruce Kuhn said he had asked the solar company if they could make a profit without a subsidized contract. They answered in the negative, he said.

“You should get into another line of business,” Kuhn said he advised them.

Ortega said the recently imposed tariffs on imported solar panels are going to raise developers’ costs even more, and they would then require higher subsidies.

“The federal and state government handed out many incentives and subsidies to get renewable energy companies launched,” Ortega said. “And they have stayed dependent on those handout models. “

“This is not what IID would have chosen,” Kelley concluded. “This is not the outcome we hoped for a year ago. Now that we are here. But as the board, you have no choice but to stick up for the ratepayers as a whole.”

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