Solar panel leasing deals on LI plagued by consumer complaints

By: Thomas Maier and Mark Harrington, Newsday, August 29, 2018

A white-hot market for leased solar energy systems has cooled off dramatically since 2016, in the wake of customer complaints about hard-sell tactics, rising bills, questionable installations and a lack of government oversight, a Newsday investigation found.

During the past decade, the environmental appeal of “going green” and reducing monthly electric bills has been promoted by state and federal governments, which enacted policies and subsidies that opened the door to a surge of solar panel sign-ups.

Today, Long Island is New York’s solar king, with more customers than any region in the state – nearly 40,000 home and small office rooftops at last count. More than $1.3 billion worth of residential solar panels have been installed in Nassau and especially Suffolk since 2000, a Newsday computer analysis of state and utility records shows.

These high-tech rooftop panels allow homes to draw electricity from the sun while displacing the utility’s need to draw power from conventional energy sources. And at a median cost of $35,000, these units have been offered by large companies, including SolarCity Corp., a subsidiary of Tesla Inc. run by entrepreneur Elon Musk.

But the arrival of no-money-down solar lease deals on Long Island also has brought a host of problems.

Nationally, Campaign for Accountability, a Washington-based group critical of solar, has tracked a sharp rise in company complaints by consumers in the past five years. “Often the target customer who is ripe for abuse is somebody who is retired, has a fixed income, and who is taken in by the promise of a constant electric bill,” said its executive director, Daniel Stevens. “The individual will wind up being charged more for their electric costs than they were before they installed solar panels. It’s one of the clearest ways that these companies mislead customers.”

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