How to avoid scams when going eco-friendly


But some homeowners say instead they're going broke after paying out thousands of dollars and getting nothing in return.

Wind and solar panels are now an expensive eye sore on Charles Bohmfalk's roof. A year ago he paid more than $7,000 to have them installed.

His contractor promised the system would eventually pay for itself by saving $1,000 a year on his electric bills. But that wasn't the reality.

"We have not saved one penny," said Bohmfalk.

Bohmfalk says the system has not generated one single kilowatt of electricity. He says the contractor won't return his calls, emails or complaints he's filed.

Bohmfalk is one of several hundred people who complained in 2010 saying they were victims of solar scams.

One man, embarrassed he was scammed, did not want to appear on camera. He fell for a rebate scheme and paid a contractor $12,000 to install a solar system and was promised over $2,000 in rebates after installation.

A year later the rebates are still a no show and the contractor won't respond to his complaints.

"This particular system has not shown its benefit," he said.

The Solar Energy Industries Association says these growing scams are giving going green a bad rap, and that there are good installers out there.

"What we're seeing because of the growth of the market and the number of qualified installers, most people are having a great experience with installation," said Monique Hanis from Solar Energy Industries Association. "They're usually surprised to find out how affordable the system is and how quickly and easily it can be installed."

If you're going to hire a solar contractor:

  • Make sure they're licensed in California. They should belong to a national solar energy professional association.

  • Just as you would with any contractor, check references, complaints and get three estimates.

  • Watch out for high pressure sales pitches, especially those who offer no out-of-pocket costs.

  • Be sure to verify any rebates a contractor offers.

  • Be very careful about buying solar panels online. They could be stolen or have no warranty.

Many people invest in solar panels to help save the environment. But if saving money is your motivation and your energy bills are less than $100 a month, up-front solar system installation costs may not be worth it.

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