Attorney General Tong Sues Vision Solar Over Unfair and Deceptive Sales, Violations of Home Improvement Act(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong today announced the filing of a lawsuit against Vision Solar, LLC following more than a dozen consumer complaints regarding predatory high-pressure sales tactics, misrepresentations about financing and tax credits, and unpermitted work that left homeowners saddled with nonfunctioning systems and unaffordable loans.
“We’re investigating numerous complaints regarding high-pressure solar industry sales tactics, but Vision Solar’s predatory practices are far and away the worst we have seen. Vision Solar preyed on low-income, elderly, and disabled homeowners, pressuring them into unaffordable loans for solar panels that in some cases were never activated. Their egregious misconduct appears to have violated multiple laws, and we’re going to hold them accountable. Our lawsuit seeks to get money back for Vision customers, as well as fines and court orders to stop Vision from engaging in these unfair and deceptive practices,” said Attorney General Tong.
Vision Solar began offering its services as a registered Home Improvement Contractor installing residential solar systems in December 2020. Since August 2021, the Office of the Attorney General has received 14 complaints. The complaints include reports that Vision representatives took advantage of elderly and disabled consumers, including pressuring them into signing contracts they were not fully able to read or understand. The Office learned that in one instance, a Vision salesperson selectively dealt only with an intellectually disabled individual despite knowing the other owner would not permit the solar installation. Other consumers complained that Vision completed work without applying for or obtaining necessary permits, leaving consumers with unusable systems that could not be connected to the grid.
Other complaints indicated that Vision altered the scope of work without consent, placing panels in unauthorized places that resulted in lower energy generation. Others stated that Vision overstated tax benefits, claiming that owners would receive federal tax credits despite knowing their income was too low to meaningfully benefit. Vision may also have applied for at least some of its town electrical permits falsely using the credentials of a licensed electrician no longer employed with Vision, and may have completed work on some solar systems without an appropriately licensed electrician.
The cost of affected consumers’ solar installation projects, which can include roof replacement, may be as high as $95,000. Given the high cost of solar panel installation, the complainants entered multiyear financing arrangements with third-party lenders selected and suggested by Vision. In some instances, Vision may have misrepresented consumers’ income to falsely qualify for financing.
Vision’s egregious misconduct likely violates both the Home Improvement Act and Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Today’s action seeks restitution for consumers, disgorgement of profits gained through the company’s unfair and deceptive acts, civil penalties, and injunctive relief blocking Vision from further illegal conduct.
Last year, the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Consumer Protection announced a similar investigation and enforcement action against Solar Wolf Energy over failures to complete, or even begin, promised work. Solar Wolf is currently blocked from doing business in Connecticut as a result of the ongoing investigation and has since filed for bankruptcy.
Assistant Attorneys General Joe Gasser and Lauren Bidra, Legal Investigator Caylee Ribeiro, Paralegal Specialist Casey Rybak and Deputy Associate Attorney General Mike Wertheimer, Chief of the Consumer Protection Section, are assisting the Attorney General in this matter.
The Office of the Attorney General and Department of Consumer Protection have previously released guidance regarding rooftop solar.
“Residential solar may help reduce electric bills and dependence on fossil fuels to power our electric grid, but consumers must proceed with caution. Solar power purchase agreements or lease agreements are often long-term, complex, and can be expensive. Any electric bill savings varies per household depending on many factors,” said Attorney General Tong. “While electric rates are high and we are all looking for ways to save money, consumers should never feel pressured into a solar contract or any other major home project.”
What must I know about rooftop solar?
• Not all homes are equally suited for solar. The size of the roof, orientation of the home, amount of sun exposure, and the home’s energy demands are all important factors to consider. Solar companies may ask about removing trees to increase sun exposure, which is an additional expense.
• Some roofs require reinforcement or replacement before solar installation. This is a separate cost that solar companies typically will not pay for. And, if roof work is required during the useful life of the system, the homeowner may have to pay to remove the panels.
• Compare reviews and prices. As with any major purchase, you should compare other consumers’ reviews of solar companies and shop around to be sure you’re getting a fair deal.
• Know who you are doing business with, and ensure they are properly licensed in Connecticut. Many solar companies contract out their marketing and installations to third parties, so you might be asked to sign a contract with a different company than you thought.
• Never sign any agreement with a solar company under pressure. The Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Consumer Protection have received complaints of high-pressure sales tactics by solar companies. Even if a salesperson suggests you sign to “get the process going” or to “get more information,” do not sign unless you are fully comfortable committing to the solar transaction. You should never feel pressured to read a contract quickly, let alone on the spot on a salesperson’s tablet or computer. And you may ask a visiting salesperson to leave your home at any time.
• Under Connecticut law, you may cancel your contract any time before midnight the third business day after a transaction.
Here are some frequently asked questions about residential solar systems:
What is a solar panel system?
A solar system consists of rooftop panels and an inverter which converts sunlight into electricity. Installing solar panels can be an intensive process: the system must be professionally designed and installed, permitted and inspected by local officials, and approved by the electric utility. Roof reinforcement or replacement may be required before installing a solar system, at additional cost to the homeowner.
The same consumer protection provisions apply to solar installers and salespeople as other home improvement contractors and salespeople. For more information, visit the Department of Consumer Protection’s website.
Is residential solar cost-effective?
The benefits and costs vary. Consumers should be wary of solar companies that promise that solar makes sense for them before carefully analyzing their situation. Never make a decision based on online calculations or estimates, which may be based on data from other parts of the country.
Salespeople will emphasize that the cost of electricity is high and increases every year. While electricity costs do increase, consumers should beware of promises by solar companies that a solar system can guarantee a certain level of savings. You can find historical electrical costs for your utility here.
Can I get a solar system at no cost?
No. There is no such thing as a no-cost solar system. While some solar installations may have no up-front cost, those options require monthly payments and may not be wise in the long run.
What about tax credits or other incentives?
There is a 26% federal tax credit on the cost of solar systems installed through the end of 2022. The credit drops to 22% in 2023 and expires in 2024 unless renewed by Congress. Only the purchaser of a solar system may take the tax credit, not lessees or PPA customers, and purchasers will only benefit if they owe federal income tax. While solar companies may advertise low cost or even “no cost” solar programs, these involve the solar company, not the homeowner, receiving any tax credit.
Who pays for the solar system?
• Purchase. Consumers can buy solar panels using cash or obtain financing. The consumer owns the system and generally is responsible for maintaining and repairing it. Only a purchaser can benefit from any applicable tax credits.
• Lease. Consumers can lease solar panels by paying a fixed monthly payment in exchange for the use of the solar panels for a set term. Much like a leased car, the consumer can buy the panels at the end of the term, give back the panels, or renew the lease. There is no guarantee that the lease payments will be less than the electricity bill would have been without panels. And, if the system does not generate enough to cover the home’s full energy use, there is still an electric bill.
• Power purchase agreement (PPA). Under a PPA, consumers do not own or lease their systems, but pay a monthly payment based on how much electricity they use. The cost per kWh is generally less than electric rates, but increases over time. As with a lease, there is no guarantee that the monthly payments will be less than the electricity bill would have been, and, if the system does not generate enough to cover the home’s full energy use, there is still an electric bill.
Will I still need to pay for power from the electric utility?
Homes with solar panels are still connected to the power grid. This means the homeowner pays for power from the electric utility unless their system produces enough to cover their energy needs. A residential solar system can send energy back onto the grid and, depending on the arrangement the homeowner selects with the electric utility, the utility will provide a credit if the home generates more power than it uses. More information about credits for solar generation is available here.
Does a solar system affect my home’s value?
Solar companies often claim that solar panels increase the value of your home. There is currently not good data to support this claim. Many home buyers do not see solar panels as a benefit. Also, homeowners with leased panels or PPAs may have difficulty selling their home since the new buyer and the company need to agree to transfer the lease or PPA.
Connecticut consumers who believe they have been harmed by a solar company’s practices should file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General here: https://www.dir.ct.gov/ag/complaint/ or with the Department of Consumer Protection here: https://portal.ct.gov/DCP/Complaint-Center/Consumers---Complaint-Center.
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