Predatory residential solar installers could sow mistrust, advocates fear

Rooftop solar panels.
Rooftop solar panels.(VCU Capital News Service)
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 10:37 AM EDT
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Norfolk resident John Luker knew that when he started asking solar companies how much it would cost to put panels on his roof, price estimates would vary.

But he didn’t know they’d range from $17,560 to $66,888 over the life of the installation.

As part of research for the Chesapeake Bay Group of the Sierra Club Virginia chapter, Luker — who serves as the group’s chair — collected quotes from 20 solar companies to see just what they were charging the average Norfolk customer.

What he found was little consistency, with firms charging as little as $2.10 to as much as $5.62 per watt. Warranties varied widely, as did maintenance and service commitments.

“Everybody has a different price, but the prices are so different and some people are so outrageous and the service so terrible,” Luker said.

With solar becoming increasingly common in Virginia as a result of growing worries about climate change and loosened residential solar laws passed in 2020, concerns are also increasing that an influx of predatory solar companies into the state could leave consumers saddled with heavy costs and sow distrust in the energy source.

“Some people are getting solar that’s too expensive — it’s three times the price it should be,” said Ruth McElroy Amundsen, an engineer and solar investor who in 2019 founded the Norfolk Solar Qualified Opportunity Fund to help put solar on businesses and nonprofits in economically distressed areas. “That kind of stuff spreads. They’re not going to say, ‘This contractor is bad.’ They’re going to say, ‘Solar is not worth it.’ "


.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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