(WSPA) – You have likely seen the commercials, maybe even had a knock at the door; solar companies pitching their solution to your high electricity bill.
In this 7NEWS Consumer Exclusive, we took a deep dive into the math and the problems plaguing the industry and found those savings often don’t add up.
Watch out for door-to-door sales reps
Abel Bartley, in Liberty, wanted to pay it forward even though for 20 years he will be paying the price for what he calls “one of the worst decisions I’ve made.”
In 2020, Bartley said he had been looking for a way to save on electricity when a solar panel salesman visited him, promising his electric bill would drop to almost nothing.
“And he also said they would produce so much energy during the summer that the electric company would have extra energy they can then loan to other people so that was to me a selling point,” Bartley explained.
The reality, he said, is far from that.
“There has not been one month since I’ve got these solar panels where I did not have an electric bill,” he added.
In fact, in the summer months when the panels should be most efficient, Bartley said his bill hovers around $140.
That’s on top of the $180 he must pay per month towards the panels, again, those payments are for two decades.
As if that was the worst of it, Bartley said the original solar company called Solar Solutions was sold to a new company, Brio Solar Energy, that has no working phone number.
7NEWS reached out to BrioSolarEnergy via the form on its website, however, the company never responded.
Advice from a local utility
Scott Dalton, with Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative, said each year they hear from a number of people just like Bartley, and they warn homeowners to check with their utility first to verify how much solar panels would truly impact their bill.
The average is no more than a 40-50% reduction.
“There’s quite a few issues in the industry,” Dalton said.
“They can be taken advantage of them, telling them they are going to see savings and it doesn’t work out the way they described,” he added.
Breaking down the numbers
It is crucial to crunch the numbers.
The average home solar system costs about $20,000. If you finance at 6% it’s more like $35,000 over the life of a 20-year loan.
While you can shave about 50% off your utility bill, it will take you likely 20 years to break even.
By that time, the panels are likely old and need repairs or replacements.
Another homeowner’s warning
For Charles Ladson in Greenville, that break-even point could take a lot longer. His solar panels cost more than $70,000.
Ladson said not one, but two companies associated with his account have folded. Plus, he said, parts keep breaking.
“Sometimes they have not worked at all for almost two years,” Ladson told us.
Even when they are not working, he still has to pay off the loan.
Ladson is part of a support group online of more than three thousand clients of Pink Energy which declared bankruptcy and has left many homeowners struggling to pay off hefty solar system loans.
If misery loves company, both Ladson and Bartley know they have plenty of it. They are hoping their warning may in some way stop that group of disgruntled homeowners from getting any larger.
“I feel like I have been duped. I’m a fairly intelligent guy, I have a PH.D. And I thought I was being pretty smart. I thought I was helping the environment and helping the community and yet at the end of the day I got scammed in my opinion,” Bartley said.
How to find a trustworthy solar company
These cautionary tales don’t imply every solar company comes with red flags. In fact, many utilities like Blue Ridge Electric offer their own installation with vetted contractors.
You can also check reviews with the Better Business Bureau and Google reviews.
In addition, references from multiple homeowners is a wise step before signing any contract.
The point is, do your research not just on the company but also on the true bottom line.