This blog was originally published on April 21, 2020, and has been reposted with edits.

With solar energy becoming more popular and affordable, new solar firms are setting up businesses in Wisconsin. This competition is good for our solar energy market, but can also increase the possibility of bad business practices in the industry.

For example, three years ago, customers in southeast Wisconsin were left with incomplete projects after a Utah-based company failed to complete its solar arrays. In 2018, another solar firm failed to complete dozens of projects in Minnesota and Wisconsin, defrauding homeowners of over one million dollars. More recently, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison sued 4 solar companies for fraudulent business practices, and the Attorney General’s office of Iowa is investigating a large uptick of complaints against solar companies accused of defrauding homeowners. Many customers are looking at payments for solar systems that are not fully connected, or in some cases, the company has neglected to do any work whatsoever.

Burke O’Neal of Full Spectrum Solar in Madison says that homeowners should exercise caution if they are solicited with a solar energy system for their homes. “Customers should look for installer experience and expertise,” said O’Neal. “Make sure your company has appropriate licenses and insurance. And look for a company with an office, truck, and warehouse. If a company asks for big payments upfront, that’s a serious red flag.”

As renewable energy advocates, RENEW wants to help Wisconsinites realize the promise of solar energy. These bad headlines can damage Wisconsin’s network of solar contractors and the concept of renewable energy as a whole.

If you’re considering solar PV for your home, here are a few important points to consider:

  • Contact a reputable solar contractor. It can be very difficult to know who is reputable and who is not. You can begin by looking at our map here at RENEW Wisconsin, or this Midwest Renewable Energy Association list. You do not need to limit yourself to these lists, but this is a good place to start.
  • Obtain at least three solar system proposals. This will help you choose the best system for your needs and budget.
  • Cross-check your contractors with a third-party rating system. The Better Business Bureau, Consumer Affairs Office, Angie’s List, or other independent reviewers should provide insight on which companies are experienced and reputable.
  • Find out if your contractors have a license to work in your area and if they have a licensed electrician on staff. Ideally, you’ll want to choose a NABCEP-certified contractor, but you do not need to limit yourself exclusively to these firms.
  • Conduct more research. Talk to other homeowners who have gone through the process.

Once you are confident you’ve chosen a qualified contractor, have a representative from the firm answer these questions:

  • How long have they been in business?
  • How many systems have they installed?
  • What warranties on labor and materials are offered?
  • Who to contact if there’s a problem?
  • Select a proposal. The firm will issue you a contract for the solar project. Examine the financials of the contract. Ensure the total price, payment schedule, and cancellation policy are spelled out. Make sure you understand all the warranties offered.

If your solar contractor can’t provide the answers to these questions, or if you’re unsure about the process in general, contact us at RENEW Wisconsin.

A home solar PV system is a major purchase, and it’s important to take the time to make the right decision for yourself and your home. If you’re considering purchasing a solar system, don’t hesitate to ask your solar contractor many questions. It can also help to talk with other homeowners who have gone through the process. Buying a solar array may feel overwhelming, but following these steps will help ensure you’re choosing the right company for the job. 

If you have had a bad experience with a solar installation firm, you can submit a consumer complaint with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). DATCP also has information on Solar Power Buying Tips and Home Improvement Consumer Tips.