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.”