If you’ve been shopping for solar or entered the word solar into your phone at any time recently, you’ve probably started seeing ads about “free solar” or “get paid to go solar.” So can you really get free solar, or better yet get paid to go solar in Virginia?
Unfortunately, that’s a big no.
It makes us super sad to see these ads pop up, because it gives the solar industry a bad name when unethical companies make these kinds of claims.
Recently a company called Pink Energy (formerly PowerHomeSolar) went out of business because they were using these false claims to lure customers in. Now those customers are stuck with systems that may not work, and loans that need to be paid off. Luckily, the Virginia Attorney General is looking into the issue to help VA families who were taken advantage of by that company.
A quick Google search showed us these ads just last night. They lure people in with the words “no cost” but fail to mention that a “zero interest” loan is involved, which is usually more expensive in the long run. More about financing further down.
So how can you tell if a solar company’s claims are legitimate?
First, it’s good to learn about what is legal and possible in your area. Different states, different localities, and even different utility companies can have varying rules and programs around solar installations. For example, in Washington DC, there is a wonderful program called Solar for All that does actually provide free solar panels to low-income homeowners. It’s important to check your locality for information– you can find programs like this listed here.
In other areas, some families are able to go solar with no money down through a residential Power Purchase Agreement. This means the solar company retains ownership of the equipment and sells the power it produces back to the homeowner at a lower rate than the utility will. But the company also retains the benefits of the system, like the tax credits and the valuable renewable energy credits. In this situation, it’s important to do the math and have a line-by-line breakdown of what the company is providing so you can make sure the financial benefits truly add up.
Having said that, Residential Power Purchase Agreements aren’t actually legal in Virginia, so if a company tries to tell you this is a possibility, that’s a huge red flag.
And even if it were possible, we’d rather see homeowners own their system and reap all the benefits of having their own solar energy. Too often the fishy math that some companies do around residential PPAs can leave homeowners taking on more financial responsibility than necessary.
How else can you tell if a solar company is reputable?
There are a few things we think solar shoppers should be on the lookout for when comparing proposals.
Financing: If you’re interested in using a loan to finance your system, beware of high dealer fees hidden inside your quote. A “zero interest” loan will often have high closing fees or dealer fees associated with it. If the company you’re looking at doesn’t have choices of long and short-term loans and isn’t fully transparent about the ultimate cost, that may be a red flag. Usually, a more typical interest rate loan will end up being a better deal in the long run. The loan type you choose should be tailored to your needs and goals, and your solar consultant should help you understand the implications of each possibility.
Subcontractors: Another thing to look for is whether the company does all of the work in-house, or whether they hire out some of the services. If a company is subbing out some of the work, coordination and communication may break down. Additionally, in-house design, permitting, and interconnection teams are key — experts guiding your project through these steps can ensure that your system is economical, beautiful, and importantly, up to code. In-house installers and electricians are also crucial because they can develop a well-oiled machine to install efficiently and with pride in their top-quality work.
A few other things to look for in a reputable solar installer:
- Sales team does not pressure you. Gimmicky sales with false deadlines are always a red flag.
- Has a maintenance department so they can provide service over the life of the system
- Local company that is familiar with local permitting offices and building inspectors
- Cares about employing a local workforce and being a part of the community
We’re here to talk through all of your questions or concerns and we’re committed to being fully transparent with our proposals. Give us a call at 703-249-6594 or click below to get in touch. We love to talk solar with you — no pressure!