Holding the Solar Industry Accountable.
In the Fall of 2016, Campaign for Accountability launched an investigation into the deceptive marketing practices of the rooftop solar industry.
In August 2016, two consumer watchdogs warned government regulators about the use of exploitative contracts by solar companies. Public Citizen submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission criticizing the arbitration clauses included in rooftop solar contracts and highlighting how solar leasing arrangements pose “significant financial risks for families.” Around the same time, the National Consumer Law Center submitted comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, urging the agency to take action to protect low-income consumers citing, among other things, a dramatic increase in leases for solar panels “and extensive complaints of false claims as to the savings with such panels and the terms of the leases.”
Following these warnings, CfA submitted open records requests in several states to examine consumers’ concerns. CfA requested complaints submitted since 2012 pertaining to the sale or leasing of solar panels and the installation of solar panels on residential rooftops. CfA’s review of the complaints revealed a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse by solar companies. Since then, we’ve taken action.
CfA has since asked several state attorneys general to investigate deceptive sales and marketing practices in the rooftop solar industry. We’ve urged attorneys general to hold bad actors accountable to ensure solar energy ultimately prevails in a political environment far more favorable to oil and gas.
Additionally, CfA asked the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission to investigate companies that offer residential rooftop solar panels. CfA review of more than 1,200 complaints released by the FTC revealed a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse. CfA has also published editorials in state and local newspapers calling for greater accountability of the solar industry.
CfA has also worked to hold clean energy advocates accountable. In June 2017, we published a report exposing the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) – an organization that describes itself as both a watchdog and a think tank – as the apparent project of a for-profit public relations firm.
In December 2017, CfA released the findings of its year-long investigation into the rooftop solar industry’s unscrupulous sales practices. CfA’s investigation found consumers filed more complaints against SolarCity and Vivint Solar than any other company.
Following CfA’s efforts to draw attention to problems in the rooftop solar industry, government officials are beginning to take action. On May 3, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the solar industry, and in March 2018, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit against Vivint Solar for allegedly engaging in “unfair and unconscionable business” practices.
Several organizations provide information for consumers regarding the installation of rooftop solar panels. Here are some resources we recommend:
Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
- The FTC’s website provides an overview of how to evaluate and purchase solar power options: Solar Power for Your Home
- The FTC also directs consumers to file a complaint with the FTC and with your state consumer protection agency if you are having problems.
Better Business Bureau:
- The Better Business Bureau has an overview of things to consider before purchasing solar panels: Thinking About Going Solar? Know the Specifics Beforehand
- You can also read customer reviews of various solar companies and file your own review or complaint: Better Business Bureau
- Consumer Reports has published several articles related to buying and leasing solar panels:
Solar Consumer Advisor:
- This website provides advice for solar consumers, particularly on common pitfalls and issues with rooftop solar companies: Solar Consumer Advisor
Solar Energy Industry Association:
- The Solar Energy Industry Association – a trade group for the solar industry – has published a guide for consumers regarding the financing options available for rooftop solar customers: Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power
Interstate Renewable Energy Council:
- The Interstate Renewable Energy Council provides a checklist for residential consumers considering rooftop solar energy: Consumer Solar Checklist
U.S. Department of Energy:
- The U.S. Department of Energy has published a consumer’s guide to solar power: Get Your Power From the Sun: A Consumer’s Guide
- EnergySage has many helpful resources regarding solar energy, including this guide to understanding solar power, which includes a “Buyers Guide”: Solar energy: what you need to know
Go Solar California:
- Go Solar California is a state-run initiative that provides information, resources, and alerts for solar consumers: Go Solar California
Note: Campaign for Accountability is not a law firm and does not provide legal representation to individuals in disputes with rooftop solar companies.
Below is a summary of our actions. To tell us about your experience with the solar industry, please visit our contact us page.
Continue reading about our rooftop solar work below.
"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. Attorneys general should investigate these nefarious practices and hold violators accountable."
CfA Executive Director, Daniel Stevens
On October 27, 2016, Campaign for Accountability asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate companies providing solar panels to residential homes. CfA’s request was based on a review of consumer complaints filed with the attorney general’s office suggesting false and misleading trade practices that may violate Texas law.
On November 17, 2016, Campaign for Accountability 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.
On January 18, 2017, Campaign for Accountability asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to open an investigation into companies that offer residential solar panels in Florida. A review of consumer complaints filed with the Florida Attorney General’s Office 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 Florida law.
On March 29, 2017, Campaign for Accountability asked Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to open an investigation into companies that offer residential solar panels in Oregon. A review of consumer complaints filed with the Oregon Attorney General’s Office 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 Oregon law.
On October 23, 2018, CfA renewed its request to Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt to investigate rooftop solar companies – specifically Vivint Solar – after a local media outlet uncovered evidence that Vivint is continuing to victimize Nevada consumers. CfA previously called on Attorney General Laxalt to investigate Vivint Solar and other rooftop solar companies in April, after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas initiated legal action lawsuit against Vivint.
New Mexico Attorney General’s Lawsuit Against Vivint Solar
On March 8, 2018, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas initiated legal action against Vivint Solar – alleging systematic fraud, deceptive business practices and racketeering –suggesting solar companies are continuing to violate state consumer protection laws more than a year after CfA first called for investigations.
On March 22, 2018, CfA renewed its calls to investigate solar companies in California and Texas, with an emphasis on Vivint Solar. Additionally, on April 24, 2018, CfA called on attorneys general in Arizona, Nevada, and New York to investigate rooftop solar companies.
Follow-Up Letters to California, Texas Attorneys General
Letters to Arizona, Nevada, and New York Attorneys General
Federal Trade Commission
On July 19, 2017, 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. 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.
Report Revealing Vivint and SolarCity are Industry’s Worst Companies
On December 7, 2017, Campaign for Accountability released a report highlighting the findings of its year-long investigation into the unscrupulous sales practices of the rooftop solar industry. CfA’s investigation found consumers filed more complaints against SolarCity and Vivint Solar than any other company.
What is the Energy and Policy Institute?
On June 20, 2017, Campaign for Accountability released a new report unmasking the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) – an organization that describes itself as both a watchdog and a think tank – as the apparent project of a public relations firm. CfA’s report explains that EPI, which claims it “exposes attacks on clean-energy,” is just as secretive as the organizations it seeks to expose.
CfA’s investigation into EPI found that the group is not a typical watchdog or think tank: EPI does not disclose its annual tax return; it has no address beyond a post office box; its few employees appear to be scattered across the country; it is not registered with any Secretary of State’s office in states in which its employees appear to reside; and it does not release the names of any board members.
"Customers saying they are paying more on their utility bills, not less as they were promised, and have been sold expensive systems they can’t afford, according to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Campaign for Accountability, a consumer-watchdog group"
Kirsten Grind, The Wall Street Journal
In the News
Our work has received national and local media attention, and government officials are starting to take notice.
- Troubleshooters: Investigating sales tactics by solar panel companies (WPVI Philadelphia)
- Affordable energy for underserved communities (The Detroit News)
- Solar company Sunnova losing some of its glow amid complaints (Houston Chronicle)
- Watchdog group to Nevada AG: Investigate mysterious ‘renewable energy’ notices (KTNV Las Vegas)
- Solar panel leasing deals on LI plagued by consumer complaints (Newsday)
- Watchdog slams business practices of SolarCity, Vivint (E&E News)
- Protect consumers in rooftop solar matters (The Times of Northwest Indiana)
- Solar energy, used car leasing complaints rising, consumer group says (The Palm Beach Post)
- Solar Companies Using ‘2008 Sub-Prime Lender’ Tactics To Sell Panels (The Daily Caller)
- Consumer group asks state to investigate solar companies’ sales practices (The Oregonian)
- Florida Attorney General called to investigate misleading acts by solar companies (ABC 7 WWSB)
- Watchdog Wants Texas AG To Probe Solar Panel Firms (Law360)
- This Solar Startup Spent Big, Then Left Customers In Limbo (OPB)
On May 3, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether certain solar companies have adequately disclosed the number of customers who have canceled contracts after signing up for a home solar-energy system, an important metric in determining the honesty of solar marketing tactics. The Journal cited CfA’s work as a significant motivator behind the SEC investigation.
“Customers saying they are paying more on their utility bills, not less as they were promised, and have been sold expensive systems they can’t afford, according to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Campaign for Accountability, a consumer-watchdog group, and according to lawsuits filed by customers,” wrote Kirsten Grind of The Wall Street Journal.
As the Journal noted, “Some customers say they were strong-armed into buying solar-energy systems by sales representatives who threatened to sue them if they didn’t proceed with a project or to place a so-called mechanic’s lien on their homes—a measure used to force a homeowner to pay for a home-improvement project. Others say they didn’t realize they had actually signed contracts. Many said they believed they were just giving permission for a consultation.”
Additionally, other public interest organizations are taking notice. In July 2017, the Consumer Federation of America released their annual report, “Nation’s Top Ten Consumer Complaints 2016,” which flagged problems with solar energy sales as an “issue to watch” for consumers.
State officials are starting to take action, too. In March 2018, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit against Vivint Solar for allegedly engaging in “unfair and unconscionable business” practices including clouding titles to consumers’ homes, fraud and racketeering. CfA’s December 2017 report revealed Vivint is one of the worst offenders in the industry.
Get in Touch
Please contact us if you have any questions about our work or if you would like to view the consumer complaints filed with Attorneys General.