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Free roof-top solar panels – is it really free?

By: Jim Datzman
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I am writing this because of my concern that many residents may end up involving themselves in a contractual obligation that they may later regret. 

I want to make it clear that there is a definite value in the use of solar panels in your home and that there are many reputable firms involved in the sales and installation of the solar panels. 

However, the highly-competitive nature of this industry has led some companies to engage in practices that are not in the best interest of the homeowner, particularly senior citizens living on very moderate incomes. 

Recently, I was approached by a Lincoln resident who was very excited because a company offered to install roof-top panels for his home “absolutely free.”

 In addition, the sales representative advised him that his utility bill would be reduced by approximately $170 per month, leaving him that much additional income each month. 

How can you ask for a better deal than something that is free and provides you that much additional monthly income? 

Upon reading some literature that I provided to him concerning the potential for consumer fraud, the resident decided to cancel his installation. He contacted the city and canceled his required approval permit and was advised that no permit would be issued. He contacted the solar provider and advised that he wanted to confirm cancellation of the installation. 

Much to his surprise, when he opened his mail the following day, he received a letter from the company “congratulating him” and notifying him that his permit had been approved.

The resident has taken steps to insure that the installation will not occur but the incident provides some insight into the unscrupulous business practices that can quickly occur once you make a commitment to approve the installation.

Author Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and also as a professor of politics and public safety at Georgetown University.  I would suggest you read his article, “Roof-Top Solar Panels - the latest Homeowner Fraud,” published 2014 in Newsmax Magazine

(http://www.newsmax.com/bradleyblakeman/roof-solar-panels-fraud/2014/03/14/id/559661/).

In his article, Professor Blakeman describes various pitfalls associated with the industry such as:

   *       Inflated assumptions about future utility rates that are           unsupported by any real or reliable analysis

   *       Potential for the solar company to place a lien or other           encumbrance on the homeowner’s property

   *       Possibility that the fine print in your contract associated with any changes in electricity costs may result in financial consequences           that are not to the homeowner’s advantage

   *       Potential negative consequences if the installer walks away, leaving no one to handle customer service or monitor the equipment.

 In summary, I offer the following.  I am a retired police chief with 33 years of law-enforcement experience.  I have no expertise in the solar panel industry. 

What my law enforcement experience has taught me is that there are very few things in this world that are truly “free.” 

Over the years, I saw too many innocent citizens who were taken advantage of because they thought they were getting a good deal, only to find out later that they were victims of a fraud and that nothing could be done on their behalf. 

If you are approached with a proposition that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Jim Datzman is a Lincoln resident and can be reached at

jimdatzman@gmail.com.