Investigation Unit: Solar Scams

We have a warning about solar scams.

Across the country, hundreds of people say they were ripped off by contractors who promised  "going green" would help them save on their energy bills and help the environment.

But in reality some homeowners say instead they're "going broke" after paying out thousands of dollars and getting nothing in return.

These wind and solar panels are now an expensive eye sore on Charles Bohmfalk's roof. 

A year ago he paid more than $7,000 to have them installed.

His contractor promised the system would eventually "pay for itself" by saving Charles $1,000 a year on his electric bills, but in reality..

"We have not saved one penny," said solar scam victim Charles Bohmfalk.

Charles says the system has not generated one single kilowatt of electricity and now the contractor won't return his calls, e-mails or complaints he's filed.

"It's been worthless," said Bohmfalk.

Charles is one of several hundred people who complained to the Better Business Bureau in 2010, saying they were victims of solar

The BBB says complaints are on the rise.

"I think it's horrible that contractors take advantage of people that are trying to do good by their environment by going green."
Track four length, said Paula Fleming of the Better Business Bureau.

Solar systems can be expensive.

The Better Business Bureau complaints we obtained show homeowners paid between $6000 to $60,000 to go green and were ripped off.

Fleming said, "It has a devastating effect on the family who works hard for their money and they think they're doing something good."
Track five length."

This man, embarrassed he was scammed, did not want to appear on camera.

He fell for a "rebate scheme". 

He paid a contractor $12,000 to install this solar system and was promised over two grand in rebates after installation.

Now a year later, the rebates are still a no show, the contractor won't respond to his complaints.

"This system this particular system has not shown its benefit," said solar system victim Herman.

The solar energy industries association says these growing scams are giving going green a bad rap and there are good installers out there.

"What we're seeing because of the growth of the market and the number of qualified installers most people are having a great experience with installation and they're usually surprised to find out how affordable the system is and how quickly and easily it can be installed," said  Fleming.
It recommends you use a contractor who is licensed in your state, belongs to a national solar energy professional association, and like any contractor check references, complaints and get three estimates.

The Better Business Bureau warns watch out for high pressure sales pitches, installers who promise no out of pocket costs and be sure you verify any rebates a contractor offers you.

Many people invest in solar panels to help save the environment, but if saving money is your motivation and your energy bills are less than $100 a month, up front solar system installation costs may not be worth it.

"We encourage people to look at it, look at the initial cost and the long lasting cost and decide if its right for you home your lifestyle and your finances," said Fleming.

Experts also say be careful about buying solar panels online.

They could be stolen or may not have warranty.

To check out legit rebate programs that can help you save as much as fifty percent on solar installation costs.

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