CfA's Investigation into the Solar Industry

Holding the Solar Industry Accountable.

In the Fall of 2016, Campaign for Accountability launched an investigation into the deceptive marketing practices of solar companies.

In August, two consumer watchdogs had warned government regulators about the exploitative contracts used by solar companies.  Public Citizen submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission criticizing the arbitration clauses included in rooftop solar contracts and highlighted 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 their installation on the roofs of customers’ homes. A review of the complaints revealed a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse by solar companies.  Since then, we’ve taken action.

CfA has asked four state Attorneys General to investigate the deceptive sales and marketing practices of the solar industry.  CfA has also published editorials in state and local newspapers calling for greater accountability of the 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 open an investigation into companies that offer residential rooftop solar panels. CfA reviewed more than 1,200 complaints released by the FTC, revealing a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse by solar companies.

CfA has also worked to hold clean energy advocates accountable. Recently, 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.

Below is a summary of our actions.  To tell us about your experience with the solar industry, please visit our contact us page.


"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

Texas

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.

Press Release | Request for Investigation | Op-Ed

California

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.

Press ReleaseRequest for Investigation | Op-Ed

Florida

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.

Press ReleaseRequest for Investigation | Op-Ed

Oregon

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.

Press ReleaseRequest for Investigation | Op-Ed

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.

Press Release | Request for Investigation

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 exposes.

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.

Press Release | Report | Op-Ed


"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.

Under Investigation

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.

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.

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