What’s “The California Eight”? They’re eight solar scams you need to avoid. There are a lot of good, honest, solar installation companies out there, but there are also a lot of scam artists, con men, and outright thieves too. Here are some scams you should be aware of and be on the lookout for.

High Pressure Sales Tactics

The first, and you’ve probably experienced them before, are high pressure sales tactics. If you’ve ever bought a car, you know what it’s like. It’s the same for solar panels. The sales rep will say that the special is a “Limited Time Offer” to get you to make a snap decision. This is a common tactic con men and scam artists use to get as much money out of you as quickly as possible.

Any contractor who asks for an instant payment upfront before you get off the phone or they leave your home, is most likely a scam artist. Buying a solar energy system is a big decision and a big purchase. You have every right to take your time to decide what to do. A legitimate solar contractor will let you take your time and will be happy to answer all your questions and help you understand exactly what you’re buying.

Posing as a Utility or Government Representative

One tactic unscrupulous solar sale companies use is making telemarketing calls and posing as a government or utility representative. They use this ruse to get you to consent to a “free energy audit”. Many people will consent to the “audit” because it’s being suggested, or possibly demanded, from what seems to be a trusted authority. Once they get there, they’ll try to sell you solar panels as if it’s something required or mandated by the state. If you get one of these calls, do your due diligence and research the company to see if it’s a legitimate company and is trustworthy.

Promising Huge Government Tax Credits

This is a big tactic used by solar energy scammers. They’ll promise huge federal tax credits if you buy a solar energy system. While there are federal tax credits, they’re not the huge amounts of money a scamming company will promise you’ll get. Another sign this is a scam, is that not everyone can use the federal tax credit.

Another sign of a scam is the promise of cash grants. They’ll throw out all sorts of numbers and nonsense terminology. Be sure to do your research to confirm if there are any valid California grants, rebates, or other incentives for residential solar power systems.

The Company Doesn’t Deliver

You know you’ve seen the news reports about shady contractors taking people’s money and then not delivering the goods. Either they do a poor job with bad workmanship, never finish the job, or just take the money and run and disappear. It’s no different with solar energy system scammers.

These scammers will promise everything and deliver little or nothing. They’ll seem to be nice people, looking to improve your life, but in reality, they’re schemers and grifters. If they do actually show up to do the installation, what they install isn’t what they promised. They’ll install poor quality equipment and install it badly. What’s worse is that the warranty on the panels is from the manufacturer and if that company is shady, good luck getting any help.

Make sure you research the company you’re dealing with. Don’t make a deposit until you confirm how long they’ve been in business, what’s their track record, are they licensed (especially important), whose product they use, where their offices are located, and what kind of customer reviews they’ve received.

Offering Ridiculously Low Prices

Another thing scammers do is offer absurdly low prices for solar equipment. This tends to be true with door-to-door sales reps. They try to pique your interest by offering super low prices because they know people tend to be more interested in things that are affordable.

This is where the trouble starts. Once they get your order, the change orders start piling up and your final cost is well above what was promised. Unrealistically priced solar panels often mean cheap panels that won’t hold up and may not even pass an inspection.

To avoid this trap, research on how much solar panel installations cost in your area. You don’t have to go broke getting a solar panel installation.

Not Having a Signed Contract

A legitimate solar company will provide you with a free estimate, but this estimate is NOT a contract. It’s an outline of what you should expect to pay after the installation is completed.

Many shady California solar companies will want to start work before all the contracts are signed. If this happens, you’ll probably end up paying much more than the original estimate. Make sure the contract(s) outline exactly what the cost is and what work you’re paying to have done. If they show up and want to get up on your roof without permission, call the police.

Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECS)

Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECS) cover certain specific percentages of electric bills from solar panels. California has SRECS and you can find out about them from Royal Solar or from the state. The state tracks your eligibility for these certificates. They are only offered by the state. Any private company that says they can get them is a fraud and you should avoid dealing with them. These scams tend to be found online.

Trying to Get You to Lease Rather Than Buy Your Solar Panels

Some scam artists will try to get you to lease, rather than purchase your solar panels. The only person who benefits from this set-up is the one who owns the solar panels. If the company says otherwise or tries to pressure you, this is a major red flag.

Buying rather than leasing your system has several advantages. The first is it reduces your average kilowatt per hour (kVh) cost, it also has a number of other long-term benefits, which include:

  • Receiving state and federal tax incentives
  • Increase your property value
  • Lock in flat monthly payments

Research Your Solar Installation Company

Shady solar companies exist, which is an unfortunate fact of life. These con artists give the rest of the industry a bad name and make it hard for the legitimate companies to operate. Trustworthy companies are out there, but you need to do your research.

To find a trustworthy company, do your research. Look for these qualities:

  • Local community experiences
  • The amount of solar experience they have. The more the better. You don’t want someone who just entered the business to install your system.
  • More positive than negative reviews online
  • Offers a high-quality product with a manufacturer’s warranty
  • They have an available service department
  • Can be reached by phone, email, or an office visit if needed
  • Customer recommendations and referrals
  • Financing options
  • They have clear, truthful, and easy to understand contracts