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AB 1139 would have broken promises made by the state to all California residents with rooftop solar panels providing energy for themselves and others. Stock photo
Community Commentary Opinion

Commentary: What to know before switching to solar power

By Summer Stephan

Deciding to install solar panels is an important financial decision.

If done improperly, the installation can damage your home, leading to costly repairs. Many solar contractors are honest and reliable, but not always.

Inevitably there are cheaters working the system and preying upon the unsuspecting.

Sometimes they are rogue contractors, but mostly they are unlicensed fraudsters who cut corners or skip town with your money.

When considering solar, here’s how to prevent getting scammed:

Choose the Right Contractor for Your Job

• Fraudulent contractors typically do not have a contracting license or workers compensation insurance.

• Check for a valid license or disciplinary actions on the Contractors State License Board website.

• For solar installation, ensure the contractor has a valid and active license in the correct classification.

The license must be in one of the following classifications: C-46 (Solar Contractor), C-10 (Electrical Contractor) or B (General Building Contractor).

• If the contractor does not appear on the CSLB website, does not have a license number, or does not have a license in the correct classification do not hire them.

• Be wary of door-to-door salesmen. An honest salesperson will not pressure you into a contract. 

• Get bids from multiple solar installers.

• Ask for at least three references from prior customers and check them out.

Know your rights

You have rights during the sales process, which are meant to protect you from unscrupulous contractors.

• You have the right to receive and read the California Solar Consumer Protection Guide before you sign any contract.

This guide contains information about how to evaluate solar energy and what questions you should ask before making decisions.

• Always be careful when signing on an iPad or tablet. Don’t be rushed and make sure you receive a copy of what you signed. 

• If the sales presentation was conducted in a language other than English, you have the right to receive the contract in that language.

• You have the right to receive a copy of the Solar Disclosure Document, which shows the total cost for the solar energy system. 

• You can cancel the contract up to three business days after signing. If you are 65 years old or older, this cancelation period is extended to five business days. You should be provided with a Notice of the Right to Cancel.

Understand Your Options

Before you sign a contract, make sure you understand the type of solar installation you are getting, how your solar panels are being financed and what the overall cost will be.

Be wary of any salesperson who says solar energy is free, government subsidized or that you will never pay an electricity bill again.

The most common types of solar financing options are:

1. Purchase (with cash or a loan): you will own the system and likely be responsible for any maintenance and repair.

2. Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs): you do not own the system and will be required to purchase all energy generated whether you use that energy or not.

3. PACE Financing: the amount financed will be placed on your property tax bill and may affect your ability to transfer the loan to a subsequent buyer of your home.

4. Lease: you don’t own the system and are obligated for a term of years.

Compare the different financing options and conduct your own research on the benefits and consequences of each before entering a contract.

If you think you may want to sell or refinance your home later, be sure to understand how the options above could impact your ability to do so.   

If you believe you have been scammed by a contractor, file a complaint with the Contractors State License Board. 

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public.

I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.

The DA’s Consumer Protection Unit is made up of deputy district attorneys, investigators and paralegals dedicated to protecting consumers and law-abiding businesses from fraudulent or unfair business practices.

To report a consumer complaint, you can call (619) 531-3507 or email [email protected].

Summer Stephan is the District Attorney of San Diego County.

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