Consumer protection

Protecting your solar investment: what to know about consumer protections

If you’re considering solar panels for your home, there are a few things you’ll need to be aware of to select the best option for you. While installing solar panels can put money back in your pocket in a few different ways (such as reducing or eliminating your electricity bills, providing you with incentives, and getting you credits through net metering), they are no doubt an expensive purchase so you’ll want to make sure you’re confident and feel secure in protecting your investment. Just like many other big ticket items, there are consumer protections you should know about for solar, as well as other ways you can be an informed buyer when choosing your installer, equipment, and financing.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide an informational overview of the consumer protections for interested homeowners. It’s not intended to serve as official financial guidance. If you’re interested in installing solar products, make sure to use your best judgment and seek advice from a licensed professional if necessary before making any purchase or investment.

Key takeaways

  • Consumer protection agencies and oversight exist to help you protect you and your solar purchase.
  • There are industry safety and quality standards to protect solar employees and you as a buyer. Some states also have specific regulations and legislation in place to protect your solar purchase.
  • Over the last decade, some state Attorneys General and the FTC have helped bring lawsuits against companies scamming or misleading homeowners when going solar and have also helped them get settlements.
  • Know what rights you have and the action you can take in the unfortunate and unlikely event that something does go badly throughout the process or after your solar panel system is installed.
  • Community solar protections are less defined, but some states have guidelines on what disclosures must be shared with subscribers, such as cancellation terms and other disclosures.
  • Sign up for a free account on the EnergySage Marketplace to compare solar quotes from trusted installers in your area along with financing options from reputable lenders.

What’s included in this article:

What consumer protection agencies exist for solar?

While solar is still growing compared to credit, banking, and other larger, more established industries, there are still consumer protection agencies and oversight throughout government agencies and the solar industry to help you feel confident in making a solar purchase. Some of these organizations include:

Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is dedicated to prohibiting unfair and deceptive trade practices to help you protect yourself and your bank accounts against scammers and fraudsters. Since its inception in 1914, various issues have been addressed and settlements have been reached with the FTC’s help. 

The FTC Act regulates advertising, bans deceptive advertising, and requires specific disclosures to explain any claims. Additionally, FTC guidelines warn that “free” claims require caution. The FTC states that, “Offers of ‘free’ products need to list all conditions and obligations in a clear and conspicuous location.”

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is the main federal financial regulator, enforcing laws regarding consumer leases and financial products. So, any solar loans fall within their purview. You can get resources on loans and scams on the CFPB website.

Your state’s Attorney General office

These officials and their organizations exist in each state throughout the U.S. Attorneys General (AGs) are the top legal officers of their state or territory and they advise and represent their state’s legislature and agencies, acting as an attorney of sorts for their citizens. Most are elected officials, though in a few cases the governor appoints their state’s AG.You can search for your state’s AG on AG offices often coordinate with the FTC and other agencies when pursuing complaints and lawsuits for issues related to consumer protection.

Your state’s consumer protection offices

Many states have other agencies in addition to the AG offices dedicated to various areas including banking and finance, insurance, securities, and utilities. In some cases, these entities may be involved with solar consumer protection as it relates to financing loans or the state’s utilities, but this varies by state. In some cases major cities may also have dedicated consumer protection agencies. 

Learn more about if your state has other consumer protection agencies.

Solar Energy Industries Association

Founded in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is the national trade association for the solar and solar-plus-storage industries, working to build a clean energy economy and support solar energy in the U.S. One of their key focal points is ensuring that consumer protection is at the forefront of the solar industry. SEIA created a consumer guide for going solar that you can use to understand financing options available, contracting terms to be aware of, and other helpful tips.

Solar industry safety, workplace, and quality standards

In addition to the agencies helping protect consumers in the solar industry, there are safety and quality standards in place to protect both solar employees and you as a consumer. These include electrical code, oversight, and certifications as well as residential codes for photovoltaic (PV) systems. The Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS) also provides guidelines for the solar industry for quality management and assurance.

Solar consumer protection legislation and regulations

Some states also have regulations in place to protect its residents when going solar. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) notes on their website that “Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah have passed mandatory rooftop PV disclosure laws, while Minnesota and Maryland have instituted mandatory community solar disclosure regulations.” CESA also outlines specific contract disclosures by state for both rooftop and community solar.

Impactful solar consumer protection lawsuits and settlements

Over the last decade several settlements have been made to help remedy issues when they arise and help repay consumers who are taken advantage of, including:

  • April 2022: Minnesota AG Keith Ellison announced a lawsuit against four solar companies, three executives at those companies, and several lenders that partnered with the solar companies engaging in deceptive and fraudulent practices in marketing and selling residential solar panel systems that cost its homeowners between $20,000 to $55,000. The charges include misrepresenting cost savings, not connecting panels to the utility grid as promised, panels not working properly, and not getting the utility-bill savings or tax credits they promised.
  • February 2021: An April 2020 lawsuit by Massachussets AG Maura Healey was settled when a Pennsylvania-based solar energy developer agreed to pay a total of approximately $1.14 million on allegations that its violations of federal stormwater requirements damaged protected wetland resources in the town of Williamsburg, MA.
  • November 2017: A solar panel lead generation company that pitched energy savings settled FTC charges for $155,000 for making millions of illegal pre-recorded telemarketing calls to consumers on the Do Not Call Registry.
  • November 2015: The Texas AG office announced penalties for a North Texas solar company who was ordered to pay $5.8 million in penalties and legal fees as well as $2.7 million to customers for importing unsafe solar panels from China and falsely labeling the items as U.S. made.
  • April 2012: The FTC put a stop to a company offering a supposedly “free” book falsely promising that it would show them how to power their cars and homes at no cost, and then billed them for an online magazine they never ordered. They were also ordered to pay nearly $2 million in refunds to customers. The FTC settlement notes that their ads falsely claimed the book would describe “how to get free gas for life,” “how to put solar panels on your roof for free,” and “how to make your electricity meter go backwards paying you,” with phony testimonial statements such as “I don’t pay for electricity” and “I don’t have car payments, and I don’t pay for fuel.”

How to be an informed, educated solar purchaser 

As with any other industry, solar has some scammers and fraudsters. Just like you would for any major purchase, it’s important to review all of the information when it comes to what you’re paying for, what your installer is committing to doing, what warranties cover your purchase, and what agreements and contracts you’re committing to with your solar system.

If you’re financing your solar purchase with a loan, there are also specific questions to ask your lender or installer to ensure you understand the total cost, any loan fees, and monthly payments. 

What to do if something goes wrong with your solar system

If you have issues with your solar system, your best first move is to contact your installer. Usually they can help troubleshoot remotely to identify the issue and work with the equipment manufacturer if you need to repair or replace equipment or a part under warranty. 

SEIA also has a Complaint Resolution Process so that anyone from a homeowner to a solar company can voice a complaint within the solar industry. SEIA encourages you to directly resolve your issues, but if that’s not possible, their Resolution Panels present a more formal complaint review process. You can learn more about their consumer protection resources on SEIA’s website.

Community solar consumer protections

If you’re a renter or solar panels aren’t a good fit for your home, you can still leverage the power of solar energy by subscribing to a nearby community solar farm. While you won’t get some of the benefits like a tax credit or the full impact on your electricity bill, you can usually save between 5 and 15 percent annually when you sign up.

Just as with installing a solar system at your home, there are certain factors to consider when choosing a community solar provider. Unfortunately because community solar is still expanding in many states, there aren’t specific consumer protections in place for it yet. In 2017, the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) did create a consumer protection guide for states as well as outlined some of the consumer disclosures required by state for Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

Find trusted solar installers and lenders on EnergySage

Choosing a reputable, vetted, well-reviewed installer is one of the best ways to minimize your own risk when going solar. While there are no guarantees, you can learn if the installer has a solid track record by reading reviews and speaking to neighbors or friends about installers they’ve used and recommend. You can also review the solar equipment you’re quoted including solar panels and inverters to understand their efficiency, ratings, and warranties.

The best way to find a reputable installer? On the EnergySage Marketplace, you can read reviews, compare multiple quotes, and request financing options from our network of pre-vetted, reputable installers and lenders (for free!).

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About Ellen Sirull

Ellen is an expert in content creation, with a specific focus in helping people learn more about clean energy, solar, and EVs. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in journalism and earned an MBA at Kennesaw State University. Outside of work, you can find her spending time with her family, friends, and dogs as well as traveling, exploring new places, trying new food, or watching Georgia football.

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