Thursday, November 1, 2012

Some Customers Fight Delays On Solar Systems

Reimbursement issues with a federal grant program have left some Arizona solar companies without resources to install promised systems or return deposits to customers.

A Call 12 for Action investigation found that one Phoenix company, Perfect Power Solar, has for months delayed installing systems for about 100 customers who paid $4,500 in up-front fees.

But Perfect Power is not the only company experiencing problems.

One Buckeye man said he waited almost a year for Surprise-based Salt River Solar and Wind to start installation of solar panels on his home.

"It was going on 12 months and I just couldn't get them to commit," said Bill Barnes, who contracted with the company. "(They) told me it would be between four to six months, the cost was a little over $6,000, and they required a little over $3,000 deposit."

Six months later, the panels still weren't installed. Barnes says he called Salt River Solar every week, trying to pin down an installation date.

"Every week it was, 'Panels aren't in, this isn't in, our crews are somewhere else,' so I just got tired of that."

"We entered into a lot of contracts and got behind" is another excuse Barnes said Salt River Solar often gave him for the ongoing delay. After 11 months, Barnes decided to get help from Call 12 for Action.

One day after a Call 12 for Action volunteer contacted Salt River Solar, Barnes said the company called him and set an installation date. About a month later, his panels were in.

The company attributes the delay to the U.S. Treasury Department not delivering grant funding as agreed. Mike Fricker, owner at Salt River Solar, said company officials hope the Treasury funds the grants soon so that it can complete its remaining projects.

The Section 1603 grants provide cash direct to developers as part of a program to encorage investment in alternative energy.

Industry experts said that some solar companies built business models based on future payments from the government without the financial reserves to cope with delays.

Salt River Solar and Wind did two good things for Barnes before Call 12 for Action got involved: The company upgraded him to a bigger system for free and paid his electric bill during the delay.

Barnes now knows the smarter consumer move would have been to stipulate in the contract that the deal was off and his deposit refunded if installation wasn't completed by a specified date.

"I would put it in writing, right on the contract," he said.


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