WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to open an investigation into companies that offer residential solar panels in Florida.  A review of consumer complaints filed with the Florida Attorney General’s Office reveals many of these companies have engaged in false and misleading acts in the marketing and sale or lease of solar panels, in apparent violation of Florida law.

Solar Industry Florida
Photo Credit: Russ Ferriday, Flickr
Florida

Read the letter here.

CfA Acting Executive Director Daniel Stevens said, “Solar companies are using misleading sales practices to trick Florida consumers into buying and leasing solar panels for their homes.  Sadly, the companies appear to be targeting elderly consumers, who are particularly susceptible to their dishonest sales tactics.”

In August, the watchdog group Public Citizen submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission urging the commission to ban arbitration clauses in solar contracts.  Also in August, the National Consumer Law Center submitted comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau urging the agency to take action to protect low-income consumers citing, among other things, a dramatic increase in leases for solar panels “and extensive complaints of false claims as to the savings with such panels and the terms of the leases.”  In the wake of these comments, CfA submitted open records requests to several states, including Florida, to examine consumers’ concerns.

CfA reviewed hundreds of consumer complaints submitted from 2011 through the present pertaining to the sale or leasing of solar panels and their installation on the roofs of customers’ homes.  The complaints, taken together, reveal a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse by solar companies.  Consumers detailed how solar companies deceived them about the true costs of installing solar panels, incorrectly told them they’d receive tax credits, greatly exaggerated the savings they might realize on utility costs, performed shoddy installation and then failed to respond to complaints, and in a significant number of cases appear to have run credit checks on unsuspecting customers, negatively affecting their credit.

Many complainants noted that companies appeared to be targeting Florida’s senior population.  An 85-year-old man wrote that a company promised him a 60 percent reduction in his monthly energy bill through a program aimed at seniors and would incur no other costs, but a friend intervened after realizing the man would be liable for $12,000 in project costs.  In another incident, the son of an elderly couple complained that his parents had been pressured into signing a contract after a company representative told them they had already agreed to the deal and had no choice.

These tactics appears to violate the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, which provides broad protection against “deceptive,” “unfair,” and “unconscionable” business acts or practices.  The law includes enhanced penalties for anyone who directs such practices at senior citizens.

Mr. Stevens continued, “Solar companies often seem to target vulnerable populations, leaving senior Floridians and those living on fixed incomes with higher monthly utility costs and loans that often exceed what they can afford to pay, plunging them into debt.  The attorney general should investigate these despicable practices and hold violators accountable.”

Campaign for Accountability is a nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.

Article by Campaign for Accountability