Solar-Power Buyers at Risk of Being Ripped Off, Says Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne

Categories: Solar Energy

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Image: matinee-energy.com
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne warns Arizonans to watch out for unscrupulous solar-power firms.
State Attorney General Tom Horne wants Arizonans to be careful of being ripped off by greedy solar-power companies.

In an announcement this morning, the state AG accused "some" rooftop-solar companies -- which he didn't name -- of unethical behavior. Horne dumped on solar-lease deals in general, saying buyers need to be careful or they'll end up paying more for their electricity.


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We've got mixed feelings on this one: On one hand, we've been critical of solar power for some of the same reasons Horne notes in his warning, such as the fact that its usefulness is often oversold to the public.

Our interest in taking a less-than-promotional look at solar began with our examination of the Matinee Energy scam, a bogus solar-panel firm that claimed it would build one of the state's largest solar plants near Benson. It fled its Tucson office after New Times' investigation, and a lawsuit by its partners is still wending its way through Arizona U.S. District Court.

But pumping out releases like this could also be seen as a would-be deflection against the negative media attention Horne has received lately due to his campaign-finance scandals. He's struggling to keep his head afloat for two contested races he may face this year, first against Mark Brnovich in the Republican primary election on August 26, and, if he pulls that off, in the November 4 general election against Felecia Rotellini. After seeing today's release, we recalled a recent prediction by our colleague, New Times writer Stephen Lemons, that Horne would attack Brnovich "from the far right, because Horne has nowhere else to go."

Horne's press officer, Stephanie Grisham, e-mailed the release to New Times and other news media this morning. The release comes a day after the pro-solar group TUSK, led by Barry Goldwater Jr. and political consultant Jason Rose, staged a demonstration at the State Capitol to protest a move by the state Department of Revenue to start taxing solar-lease companies for the equipment they're putting on residential rooftops.

Arizonans may be looking to lower their power bills, and they may have heard about various tax credits and rebates that make solar energy a more viable option, Horne's release says. But he notes there is "no guarantee" of savings in deals that involve lease or finance payments. The dealer receives the rebates, then "mark up the component costs and labor so significantly that the costs of the system far exceed the potential benefits."

Competition between firms "has led some companies to engage in unethical behavior to obtain more customers and perform more installs," Horne claims in the release. They use "high pressure sales techniques or deceptive statements," and customers "may end up paying higher combined electricity costs after installing the system than before."

He then gives some tips to avoid being swindled.

Of course, some solar advocates might say the reduction in pollution by solar panels is worth you paying the extra cost.

The office's press-release web page doesn't yet contain the solar-scare, but it probably will at some point.

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Tom Horne, Arizona Attorney General
Meantime, Horne returned our call just now (about 12:30 p.m.)

The news release originated out of ongoing investigations being conducted by his office, Horne says, but he's not able to share details with the public at this time. The office will make an announcement "once we do something."

A civil injunction, maybe even a criminal case, could be the result, but Horne wouldn't speculate which was more likely. Nor would he name names.

Solar energy and the level it's subsidized by the public are "serious policy issues." But the investigations and warning stem from alleged misrepresentations about electricity-bill savings.

Horne denied that issuing a general advisory about solar-lease firms was a diversion or deflection from his legal and political troubles, though he acknowledged he knew it might be controversial due to the "powerful lobby" of solar companies.

He says the media has focused on "personal attacks" against him while ignoring the other work he does as the state's top cop.

"All along I've been doing my job. I've argued in more cases than any attorney general in Arizona history," he says, mentioning the long list of news releases on his official state web site.

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Irony alert: A Tucson TV station, KGUN9, ran an article today about Horne's warning that's bordered by two rooftop-solar-company ads.
Horne's troubles go well beyond personal attacks, actually. On Monday, he filed a formal response denying the claims by a former employee that he conducts campaign business illegally on state time. The Citizens Clean Elections Committee and state Secretary of State's office will figure out whether Horne did anything improper. The evidence so far seems to suggest he did.

Horne's facing calls for his resignation and the prospect of having to return $400,000 in donor contributions due to a previous campaign-related scandal.

In these cloudy times for his campaign, he's throwing a cloud over Arizona's rooftop solar industry. Maybe it'll help him, considering that most of the opposition to solar is found in conservative circles.

The national Solar Energy Industry Association didn't appreciate Horne's message, saying the state AG " fails to point out that for some solar systems, depending on application, location, and financial incentives, the payback period can be as little as four years."

Four years, huh? Not if the Arizona Corporation Commission allows Arizona Public Service to charge solar users more fees. To Horne's (potentially tainted) point, you've got to check out these sorts of claims before signing on the proverbial line which is dotted.

UPDATE: Solar companies, through TUSK, responded to our inquiry and blasted Horne for using "questionable judgment:"

"We enthusiastically agree it's always good practice for consumers to do their homework before making a purchase," said the solar-company group, fronted by Rose and Goldwater Jr. "But when the Arizona Attorney General generalizes and smears an entire industry; that's wrong and frankly demonstrates questionable judgment. The Attorney General should get his ethical house in order before smearing ethical businesses in Arizona that follow the law, give consumers energy options, and employ thousands of Arizonans.​"

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX.
Follow Ray Stern on Twitter at @RayStern.


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15 comments
ray.boggs
ray.boggs

It's a shame that a leased solar system is scaring buyers. Instead of the boxy looking solar panels that are currently being installed by the leasing/PPA companies across the country, the new, much higher efficiency, Hyper X 2 solar panels that have recently been released, really beautify the home with their unique 1/4 inch thickness and produce an amazing amount of power because of their bifacial (double sided) power production. http://vimeo.com/103621981


shaksign
shaksign

There is a really cool solar program in the states right now that allows folks to have a system installed for no out of pocket cost - home owners pay the solar company for the energy the system makes along the way. It's a good program to get for one's home because solar energy is cheaper and cleaner than regular utility energy.

Need to install a solar power system in California, Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona; No hesitation !!!

SolarCity (solar.solarcity.com)

SolarCity can install a solar power system on your home for free and sell you the energy it produces for less than you currently pay. This is your chance to save for years to come.

for more information about solar for your home click here:

http://solar.solarcity.com/microsite/network/?referrerid=a0p30000008VFPFAA4

Slappy
Slappy

Arpaio's phone call to Horne the day after this article:  Horne, I told you the solar panel idea would flounder -use the puppy angle, it works all the time.  

danzigsdaddy
danzigsdaddy topcommenter

Tom says solar is a ripoff???? So is having his employees that are on our dollar doing his campaign work on our time.

Jukes
Jukes

Nothing would inspire me to do ANYTHING faster than having Tom Horne warn against it. 

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

Will the risk of being ripped off be any greater that what happens with an unethical public "official" that misuses taxpayer money and resources?

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

My only motivation to have solar installed would be to have uninterrupted power in case the grid gives out, as it did in 2008 following a really big blow which produced 110 mph straight line winds in central Phoenix. Thousand of trees were knocked down, above-ground utilities were destroyed and some customers were without power for as much as two weeks. In August, no less! But man was I lucky! My building (one of  four in a central Phoenix condo complex) was the only one that didn't lose power.

Slappy
Slappy

Horne has no credibility. 

teknik
teknik

leasing is bad, owning is good.


got it, thanks!

Cozz
Cozz topcommenter

Leasing is a rip off. The only one's that get the credits are the companies that lease it to you. You might save 25 to 40.00 a month by leasing. If APS and SRP get their way, it will cost more in the long run to have solar in the future by the time they add every fee and tax they can get past the corporate commission and bribe the politicians to allow.

I looked into a couple of different programs, most I would save on a 5 year lease is $40.00 a month on a 3500 sf house. Wasn't worth talking the risk knowing how the utility companies here like to rip people off and have the corporate commission and politicians in their pockets.

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

@Slappy Now, if HorniBoi followed "The Joker's Guide to Fooling the Public" he'd be claiming a death threat from a kid in Canada.....

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

@danzigsdaddy It's TommiBoi doing against companies with this, after his LIFETIME ban by the the SEC for being involved in anything that impacts stocks?  Deport him back to Canada!

danzigsdaddy
danzigsdaddy topcommenter

@WhoKnows ya know..........after like 7 or 8 times with that kid, maybe we ought to just put them in a room together and see which one walks out in one piece? as long as there are no sidewalks or parking lot boulders involved, Joe might be able to have a chance. (i hear people say Canada has good health care..........it sure doesnt seem "MENTAL HEALTH CARE" is part of their health plan though)

Cozz
Cozz topcommenter

@ConcernedCitizenAZ 

Yes, Horne is a total asshole and corrupt as the day is long, but regardless, solar lease programs are still a rip off.

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