With solar energy becoming more popular and affordable, new solar firms are pursuing business in Wisconsin. While this competition is good for our solar energy market, it also offers opportunities for “bad actor” solar companies to take advantage of customers.

There have been several instances where Wisconsin homeowners have been exploited by dishonest solar firms. In 2019, customers in southeast Wisconsin were left with incomplete projects after a Utah-based company failed to complete their solar arrays. The customers are now looking at payments for solar systems that are not fully connected.

In 2018, another solar firm failed to complete dozens of projects in Minnesota and Wisconsin and defrauded homeowners out of over $1 million. In many cases, the company neglected to do any work whatsoever, and were simply collecting down payments from hopeful customers.

Burke O’Neal of Full Spectrum Solar in Madison, Wisconsin says that homeowners should exercise caution if they are solicited for a home solar energy system. “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, trucks, and a warehouse.” 

“We never ask for more than $1,000 to $2,000 as a down payment, depending on the size of the project,” added O’Neal. “If a company is asking for big payments upfront, that’s a pretty serious red flag.”

As renewable energy advocates, RENEW is disheartened to know the promise of solar energy is occasionally being used to deceive homeowners. These stories have the potential to do long-lasting damage to Wisconsin’s network of solar contractors.

If you’re considering solar power for your home, here are some guidelines:

  • Contact several reputable solar contractors. It can be difficult to know who is reputable and who is not. You can begin by looking at our map here at RENEW Wisconsin or this list from Midwest Renewable Energy Association, but don’t necessarily limit yourself to these lists.
  • Obtain at least three proposals. This will help you choose the best system and price for your needs.
  • Cross check your contractors with a third-party rating system. The Better Business Bureau, Consumer Affairs Office, Angie’s List, or other independent reviews should provide insight on the kinds of companies you’re dealing with.
  • 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.
  • Do more research. Talk to other homeowners who have gone through the process and ask your contractor these basic questions:
    • How long have you been in business?
    • How many systems have you installed?
    • What warranties on labor and materials are offered?
    • Who will I contact if there’s a problem?
    • American Solar Energy Society has also drafted a list of 40 questions to ask your solar installer.
  • Select a proposal and have your contractor issue you a contract. Examine the financials of the contract. Make sure the total price, payment schedule, and cancellation policy are spelled out in detail and that you understand all the warranties offered.
  • If your solar contractor can’t answer your questions, or if you’re unsure about the process in general, please contact us at RENEW Wisconsin.

A home solar system is a major purchase, and it’s important to take the time to make the right decision for yourself and your home. The process may feel overwhelming, but following the above guidelines will help ensure you’re choosing the right company for the job.

If you have had a bad experience with a solar contractor, please contact us at RENEW Wisconsin.