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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Research options before solar upgrade

By Clark Public Utilities
Published: June 17, 2023, 6:03am

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s valuable to remember anytime you’re confronted with a sales pitch — especially coming from a door-to-door salesperson.

“Clark Public Utilities is hearing from a growing number of customers who have had troubling interactions with certain solar salespeople,” Clark Public Utilities Energy Resources Program Manager Matt Babbitts said. “We are big supporters of home solar and help with the work required on the utility side when systems are installed. But homeowners should be cautious and research options before committing to any large home upgrade or investment.”

Solar sales pitches can be very convincing, but every home is different.

For some, solar offers a carbon-free renewable resource that may lower utility bills and provide a certain level of energy independence. For the utility, it can help lower strain on the electric grid during times of high demand and reduce power purchase costs.

“Anyone considering solar should research the installer and fact-check claims about what solar can do at that specific location,” Babbitts said. “Don’t sign anything until you understand your home’s energy needs, its solar production potential, the full cost of the system, and received at least two bids on the project.”

Customers can always start with a call to Clark Public Utilities at 360-992-3000 to better understand their options with home solar, or try the utility’s solar payback calculator at ClarkPublicUtilities.com. This free tool will determine an array’s annual solar production, compare it your previous year’s electricity consumption and calculate the return-on-investment.

Google’s Project Sunroof is also a great resource to verify how well (or not) solar may work at your home.

Watch for these common red flags:

Threats of increased rates. If a solar contractor suggests the utility is about to raise electricity rates, they are not being honest. Clark Public Utilities has not raised electric rates since 2011 or made any public statements about increasing its rates in the near future. The utility’s elected board of commissioners can change rates at any time, but there would first be a public process with ample communication directly to customers, not through private contractors.

Posing as a utility employee or affiliate. If a solar company claims to speak on behalf of the utility or work for the utility, that is not true. Clark Public Utilities does not install residential solar, endorse or have business relationships with any solar companies. The utility only maintains a list of contractors that have met certain minimum standards.

Promising home is solar-ready. If you don’t currently have home solar and a salesperson claims you already have a special solar-ready meter, that is untrue. If you decide to install home solar, the utility will need to install a solar meter.

Elimination of energy bills. While some solar systems might offset all of a home’s energy, it’s not a guarantee under even the best conditions. Check with Clark Public Utilities before signing a contract.

Know who you doing business with — especially if you are spending tens of thousands of dollars. Research the company online for customer complaints. Also, contact the Washington State Attorney General’s Office or the Better Business Bureau for complaints against them or other installers.

“So, trust but verify,” Babbitts said. “A solar installer may be telling the truth when they claim your home is perfect for solar, but you should always double check.”

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.