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BBB: Don't fall for solar energy scams

Special Photo
Solar panels like these can greatly reduce a home's energy costs, and there are state and federal incentives for those who purchase them. But the Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be wary of unscrupulous contractors, who try to take advantage of homeowners.

Special Photo Solar panels like these can greatly reduce a home's energy costs, and there are state and federal incentives for those who purchase them. But the Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be wary of unscrupulous contractors, who try to take advantage of homeowners.

es to solar energy, make smart investments and don't fall for scams, said the president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Georgia is experiencing warm weather and many consumers are adding green, solar energy to their home-improvement projects, according to Fred Elsberry, of BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia, Inc.

"Consumers need to know how solar energy works and how the benefits will affect them, before investing $5,000 to $60,000 in any solar products," he said.

Solar energy scams exist, and they are similar to the typical contracting scams, he explained. Those who fall for them may face various issues relating to installation, cost, and the solar panels, themselves, he said.

Though there are many state and federal rebates that offer a reduction in initial costs, consumers should avoid dealing with disreputable and unqualified contractors, said Elsberry.

People should also be cautious of installers, who promise no installation charges before reviewing a specific situation. Be suspicious, he added, if an installer suggests obtaining credit for the full amount of the system, even though they've promised very low or no costs, due to rebates.

Fraudulent contractors will target people who are unfamiliar with their products, said Elsberry. To promote the product, scammers may do door-to-door sales, advertise in local newspapers, or deliver flyers to homes.

"As with any kind of home-improvement contractor, consumers need to be cautious of installers who promise too-good-to-be-true offers," he said. "It pays to look beyond the lowest bid when selecting a contractor."

Before installing a solar-energy system, people should make sure they need it, first conducting a solar-energy audit, he said. Typically, if a monthly energy bill is less than $100, other saving methods should be considered, rather than a solar-energy system, Elsberry advised.

People should learn all of the costs associated with solar energy, including maintenance and upkeep of the system, he said. "Determine if the benefits and savings outweigh the costs over the long run."

Elsberry said residents should also make sure their roof is in good condition and can handle the system –– before installation occurs.

State and federal incentive programs could save the homeowner up to 50 percent on installation costs, he said. Researching and understanding the terms and conditions of the program should occur before a consumer signs a contract with an installer.

For more information about the programs, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency web site, at www.dsireusa.org, he advised.

He added that consumers can also visit www.bbb.org, to get more information, or to find a reputable contractor.