Serving Spokane, Eastern & Central Washington, and Northern Idaho

Ten statements from a solar contractor that should make you go: hmmm?

Solar panels on a house

Alternative energy is trending right now, and the ads for rooftop solar are everywhere, in the paper, on social media, and TV. Even if you don’t click on them, they pop into your email or show up on your phone with outlandish claims like: Get Solar For Free!

Of course, you can’t get solar for free. The saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” has rarely been more applicable than in today’s highly competitive solar installation market.

Northwest Renewables is often called upon to clean up and redo a mess left behind by some of these shady installers, so we hear it all. It’s easy to get sucked into a “great deal” that is not so great when the work is finished - or worse yet never finished.

We have compiled a list of statements that should make you think twice before signing a contract. This list was first put together by the awesome team in Bellingham at Western Solar, who permitted our trade association to share it with our customers.

So without further delay, here are ten sales statements for the Inland Northwest market that should raise a red flag or two, cause you to pump the brakes, and ask the difficult questions that the salesperson is avoiding answering:

1. You may qualify for Washington’s no-cost solar program.

Wrong. Or at least, this is very misleading because there is no free solar program. Some financial institutions offer zero-down financing of new solar systems, but you still have to repay the loan, and zero-down loans are often the worst possible terms. Yes, you may qualify for federal tax credits if you install a solar array, but free it’s not!!

2. In Washington, 2023 is your last chance to go solar, or, the federal tax credit is expiring at the end of the year.

Thank goodness this is wrong, or we’d all be looking for new jobs. What’s going on here is that the tax credit was going to be reduced at the end of 2022 from 26 percent to 23 percent. However, the federal tax credit for solar was renewed by Congress, so it will NOT expire until 2035. There is simply no rush!

3. If you need a new roof to install solar panels, you can claim that as part of your 30 percent solar tax credit.

Wrong. It says SOLAR tax credit – not roofing tax credit. If you find other tax credits to take advantage of, great, but they are separate from the solar tax credit.

4. You qualify for a rebate with your solar purchase.

Some installers artificially inflate the total cost of your new solar system to make your tax credit look bigger than it actually is. Then, once you sign the contract, they offer you a rebate. If something feels off, talk to a tax professional before committing to a financing plan. Trust your gut instinct, and be wary of installers who offer a rebate after you buy your solar system.

5. Financing plans that claim to cover your first 12 months of payments.

Let’s think about this one for a moment: who would first lend you money and then pay part of the loan back themselves? That just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Many of these financing plans simply defer your payments while charging you interest, so you have a larger balance after a year than when your system was installed.

Pursuing independent financing through a financial institution is always a good idea. Some credit unions even offer lucrative solar financing programs. In general, you will find yourself in a stronger position to negotiate with a contractor if you’ve secured your financing before you start hiring.

6. You will make money by selling excess solar energy back to your utility company.

While not entirely wrong, this is a very misleading statement. Your electric utility company is indeed required to allow you to send excess power back onto the grid, and it must credit your account at its retail rate (also known as net metering). But you won’t get a check for your excess power production. The credit is calculated in kilowatt-hours (kWh), and it remains on your account until you use it or your account is reset on March 31 – whatever comes first.

7. Net metering is going away soon – you’re missing out.

Wrong. If a contractor keeps pushing this at you, then rest assured this is nothing but a high-pressure sales tactic with no hold in reality. The earliest we are likely to see any changes in net metering in our area is in June of 2029, and even then, the utility companies that have reached their cap for net metering have an option of continuing at the same rate as before.

8. All solar panels are the same – there is no difference between economy or premium panels.

Wrong. Of course, there is a difference in the quality of solar panels, just like there is a difference in the quality of cars, roofing materials, or new windows. It’s essential not to simply take the installer’s word for which quality is used on your project or what kind of warranty you will get. At Northwest Renewables we install both premium solar panels, and a value level solar panel and give you that choice. The premium modules will produce more electricity over their lifetimes, and come with a better warranty, but many customers are attracted to a value price. Don't get talked into economy panels unless you’re making that decision based knowingly.

9. Don’t worry about the warranties – they are all the same.

To some extent, they are the same: most solar panels and the components used to install them carry a 25-year manufacturer's warranty.

The critical variable is how much power production is guaranteed once your solar panels are 25 years old. Some manufacturers guarantee over 90 percent production, while others go as low as 80 percent. Also, be aware that most warranties don’t cover labor or service calls, and they may limit coverage. The devil is in the details, and it’s super important that you clarify any warranties and conditions before you sign a contract.

10. High-pressure sales tactics.

Don’t feel pressured into signing something you are not 100 percent certain about. If a contractor is waving “limited-time promotions and discounts” in front of you to get you to sign, that’s a big red flag. A solid contractor will give you time to digest and understand a bid and always be willing to answer any questions you may have before you sign.

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