BOSTON-State Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) has filed HD4390 An Act to create a commission to investigate the advertising practices of the solar energy industry with the Massachusetts House of Representatives in an effort to ramp up the Commonwealth’s regulation on solar energy and to crack down on deceptive advertising and trade practices in the industry. The bill would create a seven member commission, composed of both members of the legislature and industry experts, to delve deep into investigating the practices of the major players in the solar energy industry and to issue a report on their findings, including recommending any legislative changes they see fit.
Despite being a small state in a meteorologically inconsistent region, Massachusetts actually ranks in the Top 10 for cumulative solar energy production. The state’s success in solar energy production comes mainly from a lofty goal to produce 1,600 Megawatts of solar energy by 2020, a goal which the Baker-Polito Administration expects to exceed, as well as a plethora of incentive programs, including sales and property tax exemptions as well as net metering. Net metering allows those producing solar energy to sell back any unused energy created by their solar facilities to electric companies for a financial credit.
Fast growth in this industry has not come without its issues though. “I have had report after report telling me that we need to look into the promises solar energy companies are making to customers” said Dooley. “I have a lot of constituents telling me that when they looked into installing solar panels they were told exactly what they wanted to hear, but once they installed the panels the reality turned out to be very different.”
Dooley’s own recent personal experiences have only increased his attention to this issue. In an effort to live more sustainably and environmentally friendly, he recently outfitted his entire home with solar panels. “After over a year of research, I realized there was a huge disparity between the facts and what some sales people would try to tell me. I found that the cost for the same size system could swing by nearly 50% depending on the company and some of the payback and output projections were downright absurd” Dooley reports.
The reports Dooley has received and his own experiences seem to be an accurate representation for the average consumer in the Commonwealth. Last year local investigative reporting from the CBS Boston I-Team and WHDH’s Hank Phillippi Ryan uncovered what became dubbed as the “hidden cost of solar panels.” Customers who had installed solar panels on a leasing basis discovered only after they entered into the agreement that it often prevented them from receiving important federal loans, including mortgages and reverse mortgages. Generally, leasing agreements state that the solar company needs to approve of any property transfers, which the federal government considers a disqualifying encumbrance on a property. Property owners are left with the option to outright purchase the panels, but that usually comes to an unaffordable total in the tens of thousands.
More recently, local reporting from WCVB and Fox 25 Boston has shined a light on the sometimes shoddy work done by solar energy companies. The reports point to many customers who have experienced system breakdowns, a lack of cost savings, and even home damage from solar panels. The customers say their complaints were met with reluctance from their solar provider to fix the issue.
Dooley is happy to take the initiative to protect consumers. “This legislation is only a first step in the process” he said. “Solar energy is no doubt a vital piece to our energy infrastructure and its importance as both a renewable and cost saving energy source will only continue to grow; but as with all new up and coming industries, we need to take a closer look. There are some great companies out there, but we need to protect consumers who are trying to do a good thing by going green from predatory companies whose only goal is to make a quick buck.”