CfA Asks California Attorney General to Investigate Solar Industry

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 17, 2016

Contact: Daniel Stevens, dstevens@campaignforaccountability.org, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) asked the California Attorney General to open an investigation into companies that offer residential solar panels.  A review of consumer complaints filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) – which lacks jurisdiction to resolve these complaints – 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 California law.

Read the letter here.

CfA Executive Director Anne Weismann stated, “Solar companies are using misleading sales practices to trick California consumers into buying and leasing solar panels for their homes.”

In August, the watchdog group Public Citizen submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission urging the commission to ban arbitration clauses in solar contracts. In the wake of Public Citizen’s action, CfA submitted open records requests to numerous states, including California, to review consumers’ concerns.

CfA reviewed a summary of 125 consumer complaints the CPUC  received from 2012 through the present pertaining to the sale or leasing of solar panels and their installation on the roofs of customers’ homes and discovered more than 30 different solar companies that had provided poor or inadequate service, falsely represented the savings customers would realize from solar power, lured them in with low price quotes that later proved to be false, performed shoddy installation of the solar panels, and in a significant number of cases made harassing phone calls, often to individuals who had placed their numbers on a do not call registry.  By far the largest number of complaints were lodged against Solar City and Vivint Solar.

Other customers complained of high pressure tactics, describing solar companies claiming to be affiliated with utility companies, trying to persuade elderly relatives to sign long contracts, and warning of upcoming rolling blackouts solar could cure.  Many complained that though registered with the Do Not Call registry, they nevertheless received numerous harassing phone calls from solar companies.

Some of these tactics appear to violate California’s Unfair Competition Law, which provides broad protection against “unlawful,” “unfair,” and “fraudulent” business acts or practices.  The harassing calls violate California law governing telephone solicitation.

Ms. Weismann continued, “California solar companies often seem to target vulnerable populations, leaving low-income customers and those living on fixed incomes with even higher monthly utility costs and loans that often exceed what they can afford to pay, and plunging them into a cycle of debt.  The attorney general should investigate these practices and hold violators accountable.”

UPDATE: The Solar Energy Industries Association provides a number of resources on its website (http://www.seia.org/consumers) to help protect consumers who are interested in buying or leasing solar panels.

CfA is nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.