By Mark Belcher
With renewable energy on the rise and questions swirling about the stability of the grid, installing residential solar panels is a popular option for both saving money and helping the environment.
But how can you distinguish between a legitimate solar installation and scam artists trying to make a buck at your expense? And how can you be sure that you’ll realize the full benefits of your solar investment down the road?
Here are some things to look for:
- Be alert for installers who make false claims about annual utility rate increases, often citing numbers that are two or three times higher than past history. This is an even more effective tactic now as many utilities have had to raise rates due to market volatility.
- If installers say not to contact your electric cooperative, it should raise a red flag. Your cooperative can provide information about potential rebates and buyback energy rates, which are not the same as the retail rate. In Indiana, net metering recently expired, making solar power more expensive. Check NABCEP.org for certified installers and be wary if the salesperson claims you will have no utility bill or will even make money. Such a claim is all the more reason to contact your cooperative.
- Do your own homework. Research the costs and benefits of installation, insurance, tax credits, necessary permits and payment plans, to name a few. The more you know, the less you’ll fall for the wrong sales pitch. And if you need more time to decide, be wary if you are pushed to make a quick decision.
- Know the safety requirements. All interconnection and safety requirements must be met during installation with safety inspections often required. Know who pays for repairs and damages to the system.
- Get multiple bids for installing the same kind of system, if possible. The cheapest bid isn’t always the best, nor is the highest bid always the best quality. But you might learn something about how the various companies do business, and if the pricing is way out of line one way or another, that’s a clue that something isn’t right.
Residential solar installation is an investment. You are the one making that investment, so be sure your decision is the right one for you.
MARK BELCHER is member service and marketing manager at Orange County REMC in Orleans, Indiana.