Ralph Nader-Formed Group Calls For Ban On Solar Industry Financing Schemes

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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A group founded by former Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader said the solar power industry uses lax governmental regulations to burden customers with unfair leasing practices at sky-high costs.

The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen sent a letter Monday to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describing rooftop solar leasing companies as not subject to the same regulatory safeguards governing other utility companies.

The group said solar companies disallow customers from legal recourse over its increasingly complicated leasing and financial scheme — the complexities oftentimes leave ratepayers paying way more in the long run than they expected.

“While third-party solar leasing has experienced explosive growth and has provided financial opportunities for some families, there are a number of significant risks associated with solar leasing contracts,” Tyson Slocum, the group’s energy director, wrote in a letter to FTC.

Slocum said the nature of the contracts allow third-party actors in the solar industry to deny customers access to U.S. courts in the event of a dispute over costs.

“State utility regulatory commissions do not have jurisdiction over the solar leasing industry in the same way they do over traditional utilities, a state of affairs that leaves consumers with inadequate protections,” Slocum wrote to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

Public Citizen supports the solar industry, Slocum explained, but stated that the leasing schemes typically deny “millions of low- and moderate-income families” access to the solar markets.

“Solar leasing is not a low-income access program, and it does not serve the needs of renters, those with poor credit, and those in structures unsuitable for rooftop solar,” he wrote.

Customers cannot outright own solar panels in states like Florida – instead, customers must lease solar panels from utility companies and sell any excess energy back to the utilities at higher than market rates, causing energy prices to pitch upward for utility customers without solar panels.

More than 25 states now allow customers to lease rooftop solar panels as way of defraying the pricey costs associated with purchasing solar panels.

Public Citizen’s letter may have been in response to a report from The New York Times Aug. 16 indicating customers with solar panel maker Global Efficient Energy (GEE) were being scammed out of nearly $20,000 on promises of major energy savings.

Customer Chad Gregg of Texas, according to the NYT, said GEE told him solar panels, while initially expensive, would ultimately save enormous amounts of money on his energy bills. Those promises never materialized, apparently, as Gregg and his family only “saved about $9 a month.”

“The system cost $19,900, which we would pay off in monthly installments over the course of six or seven years,” Gregg said. “Once we owned the system outright, the company said, we’d pay next to nothing for energy.”

In fact, “after the company installed solar panels on our roof, solar-powered fans in our attic and a bunch of energy-saving foam and sealants, our electricity bill barely changed,” Gregg said.

Gregg called and emailed the company to vent and ask for a refund on the panels but received no response.

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