Summerville, SC – Homeowners are likely to see solar panel sales ratchet following the passage of the Energy Freedom Act in May. State regulars warn you to be cautious of deceptive sales practices and panels that under deliver because the combination could cost you your entire home.
“I just got out of bankruptcy in 2016,” Linda Mizell explained to News 2’s Rebecca Collett as the women sat at Mizell’s dining room table. She was teary explaining the climb out of debt.
Solar panels peddled by a door-to-door salesman seemed like a good way to cut costs. So far, they haven’t been. Mizell says the sale man with Altaray told her the panels would save her money on her electric bill and the loan for the panels would be offset by government incentives.
Her electric bill is down, but she’s stuck with a $35,000 loan for the panels.
“Basically I’m paying more than I did before the solar panels,” Mizell explained of the cost.
The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs spokesperson Bailey Parker tells News 2 more than 50 percent of the complaints about solar companies this year are for deceptive sales practices.
“There are people out there who are going to try to take advantage of misinformation,” Parker explained.
Of the dozens of complaints filed in the last 18 months, customers in SC filed five complaints against Altaray,the company responsible for Mizell’s panels. Each for deceptive sales practices. Once News 2 started investigating the company, customers in South Carolina, Utah, Minnesota, and Texas reached out with similar complaints about Altaray.
Parker says before spending $20,000 or $40,000 on solar panels, research the company, get multiple quotes, and check with your utility company about savings and the practicality of solar in your neighborhood.
For Linda, now strapped with a loan nearly equal to her income, it’s nearly impossible to make the payments.
“I’m stuck with them telling me they are going to put a lien on my house,” she explained.
Industry experts say lending practices are too lax. Solar
loans aren’t based on income.
They’re based on credit score and home value.
“Just because a bank says you can qualify for a loan doesn’t mean you can afford it,” Parker wanted to remind customers.
The bank who financed the panels for Mizell hasn’t responded to multiple calls and emails.
The local owners of Altaray declined a taped interview, but sent a statement reading in part:
“We have reached out to Linda Mizell and addressed any concerns and confusion she may have had. As mentioned on our call, we do not validate her claims. We reviewed her documents with her over the phone and in person several times, during which time she confirmed the information was accurate and all of her questions and concerns were addressed.”
“In regards to the solar sales process, we have strict verification procedures to ensure customers have a clear understanding of their solar agreement. Customers submit pertinent, detailed information on their applications. We engage with customers multiple times in the weeks between sale and installation. In regards to the solar payments and offset, there are several checks and balances in the solar sales process that ensure a customer experiences a significant offset/savings with solar. There are engineers that create the layout based on maximum sun exposure and correct number of panels to match the current customer monthly kW usage. The lender also looks at this information and will reject a project if they feel the loan amount and payments do not make sense for a customer.”