WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) — When Allison Bundy heard a pitch from a salesperson for a new solar panel system in her home, she was sold. It sounded good, a chance to become energy independent and save money.
“After listening to the sales pitch, you think, I’m gonna own my electricity one day, you know, when I start living in my golden years, I won’t have an electric bill, you know, that’s it’s going to be really awesome,” she said.
Bundy said the Powerhome Solar vendor assured her that she could cut her monthly energy bills by nearly 100% and provide a self-contained power source in the event of a power outage.
After her consultation, she agreed to sign a contract and had 16 networked solar panels installed in her garden.
Over $50,000 funded over 25 years was an investment for her future and she believed she would save money in the short and long term.
It didn’t take him long to realize that the things he was being told were too good to be true.
“Day two I was already calling saying, hey, you know, I’m looking at the app and it’s nowhere near powering my house, I think someone needs to come out and check,” she noted.
The concept of power banking is explained as a way to create so much power on sunny days that you basically sell it back to the power company. Then, on cloudy days or in the winter, when the system isn’t producing as much, you can rely on that excess energy to offset the costs.
“I don’t accumulate any power. I haven’t built up any energy since it was put in, it powers itself pretty much it powers itself and it will recharge the battery,” she said. “It’s not close to what I need to power my house. That’s far from being the case. It maybe reduces my electricity bill, maybe 15% when it works when it works.
The contract, like most contracts, is cumbersome and contains technical jargon, but there is one clause in particular that Bundy calls the “nightmare clause.”
It’s right there on the first and second page of the contract, and basically says that customers shouldn’t take the seller’s savings expectation as a guarantee, but rather as an estimate.
“Amounts provided for energy generation, use and savings are illustrative and hypothetical only and (to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law) are not, and should not be construed as, warranties, representations or warranties of any kind, form or manner,” the clause reads in part.
Bundy says she read the contract, but when asked about the clause, she didn’t expect the “estimates” to be so far off.
“He said, that just indicates that there’s no guarantee that he’s going to produce, you know, on cloudy days you’re not going to produce as much as you will on sunny days. In winter you’re not going to produce as much as you will on sunny days. you won’t produce as much as you do in the summer. But remember, in the summer, like those really hot months of June, July and August, you’re going to be banking, that power,” she said.
It made sense to her, her understanding was that sunny days would make up for cloudy days and that clause was just there to make sure she didn’t expect the panels to be running at full capacity 100% of the time.
“He was like, see, what’s going to happen is you’re going to store so much power, you can bring so much power to the point where it’s going to store progression energy, and so on on very days. hot, or very cold days or days, when it’s a bit overcast and cloudy, you’ll take back what you’ve already put in the grid.
But, it’s not just the lack of power generation, Bundy says, the panels themselves aren’t working, and getting someone to come in to fix them wasn’t easy.
“It’s been in error mode for I don’t know exactly how many days, I know we’re above 90 days because in the contract once you let them know you have a problem, they have 20 days to come out and inspected has not been done, then from those 20 days you have 60 days to fix the problem, [that] was not done,” she said.
She’s past the point of wanting to rely on solar power for her home, the experience has taken a toll on her and now she just wants the company to take back the panels and let her terminate the contract.
“My bottom line is ‘come get it,'” she said.
This does not happen.
When reached for comment, a Powerhome Solar spokesperson responded with a statement saying, “Powerhome Solar is committed to customer satisfaction and is always looking for ways to better serve its customers and their needs. We strongly encourage Powerhome customers to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or for assistance in getting the most out of their solar system.
A national problem
Bundy is not alone, it is a common problem appearing across the country and region.
Businesses are knocking on people’s doors or winning new customers through social media advertising, appealing to one of the most motivating factors in solar power: saving money.
Robert Parker is the Senior Project Manager of Cape Fear Solar Systems, he says there are many reasons why people switch to solar power, but one thing stands out above the rest.
“The number one reason continues to be a financial reason, I think that’s the main motivation for most people,” he said.
Parker says that’s a problem.
“I mean, there are many scenarios where it’s a great financial investment, but solar is not a financial product.”
So yes, solar power can save homeowners money, and in some cases people get credit for the electricity they generate, but that’s not always the case.
WECT spoke with people from Michigan to Texas who shared similar stories of the issues they are facing with Powerhome Solar.
Jordan Kleinsmith lives in Michigan, and despite being hundreds of miles from North Carolina, his story is nearly identical to Bundy’s — and it all started with a sales pitch.
“He’s like, oh, yeah, no problem, man, what we’re basically going to do for you is we’re going to equip you with a system that’s basically going to get rid of 70-90% of your power bill. every month,” Kleinsmith said, referring to a salesperson.
He too discovered that it was too good to be true and said that when his system works, which is not always the case, he can save around 10-30% on his electricity bill. Kleinsmith still pays about $300 a month for electricity, plus payment of about $200 for its solar panels.
Despite its higher bills, a Powerhome Solar spokesperson said Kleinsmith’s home was producing electricity as expected.
Feeling he couldn’t be on his own in his experience and having some time off after quitting his job, he decided to start learning about the business and even started a website. www.PowerHomeLawsuit.com.
It didn’t take long before the page took off, it now has over 500 people signed up, hoping to file a class action lawsuit against the business owner.
“I think he’s going to have to be forced to appear in court through a legal action to really expose all of this. And so my goal has been to start the site and get all these people together, it’s basically get enough people together,” Kleinsmith said.
There’s even a dedicated Facebook page for people who claim to be victims of Power Home Solar, and a quick online search reveals that hundreds of complaints against the company have been filed with the Better Business Bureau.
In Ohio, the attorney general’s office says 57 complaints have been filed against the company in just two years for issues ranging from high-pressure sales to misrepresentation.
On Facebook, a group called Powerhome Victims Support Group has nearly 700 members where people share their experiences with the business and the difficulties many of them face.
Right here in North Carolina, Attorney General Josh Stein has also seen an increase in complaints, though he was unable to name specific companies.
“When choosing a solar company to do this installation, make sure you choose the right one, as we have received a number of complaints, over 130 complaints over the past two years, about particular panel installation companies. solar. So like any business, not all businesses are equally good. And you want to make sure you’re getting the right one,” Stein said.
Contracts are, by design, made to protect the interests of both parties and define what can be expected.
However, these contracts can sometimes include clauses that have bigger impacts than people realize and can actually waive your rights to sue someone.
One of these clauses is in Power Home’s contracts and poses a challenge to anyone looking to take legal action against the company.
“By signing this agreement, Contractor and Buyer agree to resolve all disputes by binding bilateral arbitration, and each party waives any right to participate in class action…” the contract reads.
It’s something that Stein says raises a red flag for him.
“One thing that always concerns me in any contract is when you’ve been forced to arbitrate a dispute rather than having your right to go to court and get justice and so that’s a type of clause which would always concern me as a consumer doing a big project like solar panels,” he said.
In the end, this whole ordeal was a frustrating process for customers who mostly told WECT that they didn’t want their systems repaired, that they wanted to terminate their contracts and that this experience was over.
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