OPPD, local solar power contractors warn of misleading tactics practiced by some companies

OPPD, local solar power contractors warn of misleading tactics practiced by some companies

Justin Peacock has seen firsthand how some solar power companies have tried to pressure customers to sign up with them.

An electrician himself who installs solar power systems, Peacock was with a friend who was given a quote for $60,000 to install a residential solar power system that Peacock said “should have been half of that.”

“And then he’s mad that the guy wouldn’t sign right away,” said Peacock, co-owner of Delta Electric in Ashland.

Other local solar electricians have reported similar behavior by companies that may not be locally based and often use high-pressure sales tactics, door-to-door visits and phone calls.

Recently, the Omaha Public Power District sent out a press release urging its customers to be cautious. Among other tips, OPPD advises potential solar customers to conduct research into the companies and get multiple bids from reputable solar contractors before signing anything.

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In its release, OPPD said some of the companies are making the false claim that they are “working with OPPD.”

Sam Hueser, a product manager at OPPD, said OPPD does not partner with any solar installers. OPPD does have a list of “solar trade allies” that consists of eight solar contractors in Nebraska who, Hueser said, “tell customers the truth and they’re honest with their sales tactics.” Lincoln Electric System has a similar ally program with 12 solar contractors in its network.

Michael Shonka, owner of Solar Heat and Electric in Omaha, advocated for such an ally program to be established in Omaha. Shonka said the program helps potential customers to recognize who’s reputable and who’s not.

The questionable companies, Shonka said, are “doing the right things by trying to research their market and understand fully what’s going on in the marketplace.”

“We’ve had literally an invasion of companies from out of state,” he said. “And it’s just easy pickings for these direct marketing campaigns. The trade ally program was one of the responses to try to mitigate some of the collateral damage our members have (experienced).”

Dale Leuck, owner of Great Plains Renewables in Gretna, was directly compromised by one of the tactics. He said one company took his business’s name, put it in an advertisement and directed people to that company’s website. That prompted Leuck and his attorney to send the company a cease-and-desist letter. The company is still trying to buy the Great Plains Renewables name, he said.

“We’re a trade ally,” Leuck said. “We’ve got a lot of positive things going for us in what we’re doing. They’re just trying to capitalize off our coattails.”

Some companies also are claiming that customers who get solar panels installed won’t ever have to pay an OPPD bill again. OPPD customers with solar still have to pay a fixed monthly service charge which goes toward items such as infrastructure maintenance and improvements.

Hueser said it’s very expensive for customers to go completely off grid.

“It takes a lot of solar or wind and a lot of batteries. It also requires a backup generator, diesel, propane or something like that,” he said. “It’s really reserved for customers who are kind of out in the middle of nowhere.”

Local contractors said they have told some potential customers they weren’t good candidates for solar based on their home’s location and features. Effective solar power generation depends on customers having adequate roof space facing south. East and west roof space can work but not north. Tree coverage and other obstructions also must not be present.

OPPD’s tips are coming at a time when both the utility and solar contractors say there’s increased demand for solar power systems. OPPD received 543 applications in 2021 and 835 applications in 2022 from customers looking to connect new solar panels to the utility’s grid. Hueser said OPPD is on track to get about 500 applications by the end of this year.

Most who have solar panels installed can qualify for $2,000 rebate from OPPD and a 30% federal tax credit under the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law last year. The tax credit applies to systems that can be installed through 2032.

As people decide whether to install solar systems, Hueser said they should keep one thing in mind.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.

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