Son claims solar company took advantage of mom with dementia

By Ryan Kath; September 10, 2018; NBC10 Boston

On a steamy summer day, Paul LaFrance sifted through a sea of memories inside the New Bedford home where his mother lived for more than 40 years.

“It’s kind of tough when you’re packing your parent’s stuff away,” LaFrance expressed. “It’s a lot to deal with.” His mother, Barbara Plante, died at the age of 84 in April. As executor of the estate, LaFrance is in charge of gathering her possessions and deciding the future of the property.

In her later years, LaFrance said he and other family members watched Plante battle early stages of dementia.

“Very sweet lady,” LaFrance recalled. “But you would talk to her and within minutes, you’d be having the same conversation over again.” So when LaFrance started going through his mother’s financial documents, he was stunned to learn at the age of 82—two years before her death—she had signed a 20-year contract for solar panels with Sunrun.

The agreement locked his mother into $95 monthly payments to the solar company. She also continued paying utility bills for electricity usage beyond what the panels on her roof produced. For instance, her bill from Eversource last January was $96.04.

LaFrance discovered his mom signed the contract after visits from a door-to-door salesman.

“I believe she was preyed on,” LaFrance said. “It’s tough because you can’t be there to protect them 24-7.”

Solar company responds to allegations

When the NBC10 Boston Investigators contacted California-based Sunrun, the company defended its agreement with Plante, saying it trains employees to avoid overly-aggressive sales tactics.

“We have stringent verification procedures to ensure our customers fully understand the service agreement,” spokeswoman Georgia Dempsey wrote via email. “Sunrun does not discriminate in our service offering to customers, including on the basis of age.”

In Mrs. Plante’s situation, she submitted a high-quality application which provided extensive information on her personal circumstances and engaged with our customer care team a number of times seeking guidance on how to establish an automatic payment.”

Sunrun also said out of “good faith,” it waived late payment fees when Plante missed her first couple of monthly bills, saying she was uncertain about the online payment process.

“They told me that when they spoke to her, she sounded confused,” LaFrance recalled. “There was a reason she was confused: She had dementia!”

Lawmaker calls for more consumer protection with solar agreements

Rep. Shawn Dooley, a Republican state lawmaker, believes the solar industry needs more oversight. During the previous legislative session, he proposed creating a commission to study the industry and produce a set of guidelines to protect consumers.

Dooley is far from anti-solar. He recently installed panels on the roof of his Norfolk home.

Before moving forward with the project, Dooley said he got bids from ten different companies, hearing a wide spectrum of promises and energy projections. It made him realize how confusing the process can be, especially to more vulnerable consumers.

“It becomes overwhelming and they can get taken advantage of,” Dooley said. “It seems some people are preying on consumers who are on a fixed income and don’t necessarily understand the technology.”

Elderly consumers complain to Attorney General

The NBC10 Boston Investigators reviewed complaints about area solar companies submitted to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in 2017.

Out of the 230 consumer complaints, 40 percent of the people checked a box indicating they were over 60 years old.

Many of those complaints accused the companies of deceptive sales tactics:

  • “I will be 85. Why would I sign a 20-year agreement?” a Millbury man wrote.
  • “I believe I was deceived or conned into something,” a Leicester woman expressed.
  • “He is elderly and hard of hearing and they completely took advantage of him,” a Worcester woman wrote about her dad’s experience.
  • “I wonder how many others fall for this sales pitch, which I consider fraud and elder abuse,” an Oxford woman said about her contract.
  • “This is a shady business practice that I believe preys on the elderly,” a Holden man wrote about his elderly mother’s solar agreement

Dooley worries that examples like that will prevent Massachusetts from reaching its renewable energy goals.

“If we allow this to happen, people are going to start shying away,” he said. “When there’s abuse, we need to set forth some standards and make sure these situations don’t keep happening over and over again.”

Despite doctor’s letter, family responsible for payments

To bolster his argument, LaFrance obtained a letter from his mom’s doctor, a piece of evidence that he hopes will prove her fragile mental state when she signed the solar contract on February 27, 2016.

“It is my medical opinion that during the period of time from January 2016 until her death, Barbara suffered from severe cognitive impairment and was not competent to make complex financial decisions and could have been easily exploited,” Dr. Robert Sawyer wrote.

A Sunrun spokeswoman said the company is disappointed to hear about these issues now, adding that any verified proof at the time of installation in 2016 would have impacted the sales process.

The company told the NBC10 Boston Investigators it will go “above and beyond” to assist with transferring the agreement to a new homeowner, if the property is sold.

“Barbara got the value, savings and service expected from Sunrun,” the company said.

For now, Plante’s family remains on the hook for the payments. Under the circumstances, LaFrance believes the agreement should be voided.

“The right thing to do would be to just pull the solar panels off,” he said. “Take them off and go away.”

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  • Written by William Rigdon

Representative Shawn Dooley Announces Fall Office Hours

 

BOSTONRepresentative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) has announced his fall office hours for all six of the towns he represents:

  • Norfolk:
    • Tuesday September 25th
    • 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
    • Norfolk Town Hall, Room 124 (1 Liberty Lane)
  • Wrentham:
    • Tuesday September 25th
    • 11:30 AM- 12:30 PM
    • Wrentham Town Hall, 2nd Floor Conference Room (79 South St.)
  • Plainville:
    • Tuesday September 25th
    • 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
    • Plainville Senior Center (9 School Street)
  • Millis:
    • Wednesday September 26
    • 10:00 AM -11:00 AM
    • Millis Town Hall, Room 229 (900 Main Street)
  • Medfield:
    • Wednesday September 26
    • 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
    • Medfield Town Hall, Warrant Room (459 Main Street)
  • Walpole:
    • Wednesday September 26
    • 1:00 PM – 2:00PM
    • Walpole Town Hall, Room 116 (135 School Street)

All constituents are welcome to stop in, say hello, and discuss any issues they would like. As always, Representative Dooley is also happy to meet privately in the district or in his Boston office. If interested in scheduling an appointment, please contact his Chief of Staff, William Rigdon, at William.Rigdon@mahouse.gov or 617-722-2810.

 

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  • Written by William Rigdon

Food truck festival in Wrentham to benefit area charities

By Heather McCarron; September 4, 2018, Country Gazette

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, enjoys grabbing a bite to eat at food trucks. He also likes to work at raising funds for local charities. Next week, he will put these two things together at State Rep. Shawn Dooley’s Fall Food Truck Festival. The event will take place at Lake Pearl, 299 Creek St., Wrentham on Thursday, Sept. 13, 5:30-9 p.m. It will benefit two local charities: The Random Smile Project and The Santa Foundation. “I was trying to find something different and fun, because it is hard to compete for people’s charitable contributions, so you really need to distinguish yourself,” said Dooley of the inspiration behind organizing a food truck festival. “And I personally love food trucks, so I thought that they would draw a big crowd.” It looks like he hit the nail on the head. Tickets are limited to 350, and 200 tickets were quickly sold in one week. With 150 tickets left as of Tuesday, anyone interested in partaking is encouraged to order tickets online as soon as possible. For $20, adult visitors to the festival can sample from all five food trucks that will be on site, while kids aged 13 and under can sample from three of the trucks for $10. Featured trucks will include GottaQ Smokehouse BBQ, Atomic Blonde Ice Cream, Juliana’s Catering, Paco’s Tacos and Ming’s Asian Street Food. The event will also include live music by The Pushbuttons. All proceeds will benefit the two selected charities. The Santa Foundation, based in Franklin, provides Christmas gifts and food for families in need. The Random Smile Project, also based in Franklin, provides what it describes as “a bridge of support to people going through difficult times. Families in need are provided with clothing, groceries, books, and toys through a network of local support.” Also, according to the organization’s website, “accessibility options for those in need are supplied through Random Smile Project’s construction and renovation projects like wheelchair ramps, handicap bathroom conversions and home repair.” The event is sponsored by Subaru of New England, CVS Health, The Preserve at Mill Pond, Plainridge Park Casino, Glen Meadow Apartment Homes, Custom Art Framing, DiPlacido Development Corp., and Plumb House. To purchase tickets to the food truck festival, visit www.randomsmile.org.

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  • Written by William Rigdon

State Representative Shawn Dooley To Host Charity Food Truck Festival

WRENTHAM– State Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk), along with several local businesses, is pleased to announce the First Annual Fall Food Truck Festival. 100% of all ticket sales will go to two wonderful local charities: The Random Smile Project and The Santa Foundation. Both of these charities focus all of their efforts to helping those in need in our surrounding communities.

The details of the event are as follows:

State Representative Shawn Dooley’s Fall Food Truck Festival

Thursday, September 13th

5:30-9:00 PM

Lake Pearl – Wrentham (formerly Lake Pearl Luciano’s)

299 Creek Street, Wrentham

Tickets can be purchased in advance at: http://www.randomsmile.org/fall-food-truck-festival

or at Lake Pearl on the day of the event – while supplies last.

$20 for adults: Get to sample the delicious offerings of each of our food trucks.

$10 for children (13 and under) choose your favorite 3 trucks to explore.

Space limited to the first 350 guests

Open to the Public – All Welcome!

Food Trucks ranging from GottaQ Smokehouse BBQ, Atomic Blonde Ice Cream, Juliana’s Italian Catering, Paco’s Tacos, as well as Ming’s Asian Street food will be serving their assorted specialties. Live music will be provided by an awesome local band: The Pushbuttons.

“My mantra has always been, ‘Service with a Smile,’” said Dooley. “This event is about giving back and helping to put a smile on someone else’s face. I hope we get a huge crowd for this fun filled evening and really support these great causes!” Dooley went on to add, “Our goal is to have this be an annual event, bringing in more and more trucks and have it be the signature charity fundraiser for our community.”

Corporate Sponsors of this evening include: Subaru of New England, Plainridge Park Casino, DiPlacido Development Corporation, The Preserve at Mill Pond, Plumb House, Inc., Custom Art Framing, Glen Meadow Apartments, and CVS Health.

Dooley represents the 9th Norfolk District, which includes the towns of Norfolk, Plainville, Wrentham, Medfield, Millis, and Walpole.

 

 

 

 

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  • Written by William Rigdon