Tips for consumers before investing in a solar powered home

Solar is one of the fastest-growing clean energy sources in the U.S. Department of Energy, and throughout Central Virginia more homeowners are making the invest
Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 5:01 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Solar is one of the fastest-growing clean energy sources in the U.S. Department of Energy. Throughout Central Virginia, more homeowners are investing in solar energy.

According to USA Facts, “in 2005, Congress passed a tax credit for residential solar generation. Since then, the number of US homes with installed solar panels has increased by an average of 32% a year, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. At the end of 2020, there were about 2.7 million residential solar systems in the US.”

Solar is one of the fastest-growing clean energy sources in the U.S. Department of Energy, and...
Solar is one of the fastest-growing clean energy sources in the U.S. Department of Energy, and more homeowners are investing in solar energy throughout Central Virginia.(NBC 12)

“I think the primary motivation for buying solar right now is to save money, “ said Bernie Stanley, president of Shockoe Solar. “You’re looking at a payback, a period of between eight and 12 years. That’s including a 26% federal income tax credit this year.”

For 14 years, Stanley has been installing solar panels and setting up homeowners with solar energy. His company also provides solar power for commercial buildings. With the rise in interest in solar-powered homes, is a rise in customers frustrated, instead of confident in their decision.

“I get a lot of complaints where people will say, ‘I don’t even know if the system is working or not,” said Stanley. “A properly installed system, you’re going to have an app on your phone, or you can use it on your desktop and you can see what the system is doing. It’s going to send you an email if there’s an error or if there’s an issue. A lot of these folks are installing systems out there where they’re not finishing them. They’re not hooked up, they’re not connected to the internet and the customer has no idea and no way of knowing whether it’s working or not. Then you try to call [the company] and their customer service is terrible.”

Stanley has been called in to help many homeowners who have purchased systems that do not work properly and cannot get the proper support to fix them. He says there are other people in the community dedicated to doing the same.

“There are a lot of organizations out there that look out for folks. The Virginia United Solar Neighbors is one of them,” he explained.

A North Carolina-based solar company is currently facing hundreds of complaints and lawsuits. According to WBTV, our sister station in Charlotte, North Carolina, consumers owe millions of dollars in loan payments and say their solar power systems don’t work.

Stanley says there are several things to look out for if a homeowner is considering solar energy. First, he says to check references and utilize the Better Business Bureau as a guide.

“You have some companies with over 1,000 complaints, some with over 500 complaints. Some with maybe 50 complaints,” he said. “You’ve got a whole bunch with zero complaints called the ones with zero complaints. That’s the best way to start and do some research. Google asked them for references, and if they say they’ve been in business for 15 years, find references that are 15 years old.”

He says to be wary of social media ads offering financing that seems too good to be true.

“You’ll see a lot of Facebook, Instagram ads or even on Google you’ll see ads for solar and it’ll say, ‘we’ll pay you $2,000 to buy solar from us’, an absolutely ridiculous concept. Essentially, you are borrowing money and then you’re paying yourself some of that money you borrowed,” he said. “They’re not giving you anything. There is no government program or state program or local program that’s giving you anything like that. It’s just not true. It’s a tricky way of financing.”

If someone tries to sell solar energy by going door-to-door, Stanley says don’t be quick to answer the door and let someone inside your home.

“Almost all of the complaints that we’re hearing are because of these door knockers,” he said. “They’re walking through the neighborhoods and they’re telling people, ‘hey, we did the job down the street,’ and they usually didn’t do the job down the street. They’re using that as a way to get into your house because it creates trust. That’s just one of the techniques that they use to get inside of your house.”

When it comes to picking a company to work with and as you look at financing the installation of solar panels, Stanley suggests staying within a price range that is comfortable for the homeowner and family.

“I don’t think anybody should spend any more money than they’re comfortable spending. I would say you’re probably better off if you have the money, to use your own money. If you don’t, maybe an [home equity line of credit] or something. That is tied to your house so that you can get that deduction of the interest because it’s tied to your house.”