Solar Panel Initiative Attorney General Peter F. Neronha has launched an initiative to educate and protect consumers who are purchasing residential solar panels for their home. Both the federal and Rhode Island state government have created numerous financial incentives to encourage Rhode Islanders to purchase residential solar panels. Residential solar panels are just one way that Rhode Islanders can change their own individual behavior to help Rhode Island reach its 2021 Act on Climate greenhouse gas reduction goals. Whether you choose residential solar panels, green electricity supply, or any other individual consumer change, thank you for your environmental contributions. Consumers should be fully informed regarding how they might benefit by switching to solar and how much it will cost. Any consumer considering purchasing solar panels in Rhode Island should read our Frequently Asked Questions below. We answer some of the most important questions consumers may have when considering whether to purchase solar panels. Most importantly, do not feel pressured or rushed into signing a contract with a door-to-door solar panel salesperson. A solar panel purchase may be one of the largest transactions a consumer makes. Take your time, ask questions, and obtain quotes from multiple installation companies before making a purchase. Similarly, be cautious about providing your social security number, or other personal information, to any door-to-door salesperson. Solar panel salespeople are unregulated and unlicensed. Providing your information to anyone – including someone who purports to work at a well-known solar panel company – can be risky. If you have a complaint regarding your solar panel purchase, we urge you to file a complaint with our Office’s Consumer & Economic Justice Unit here. Additionally, the Office may be able to help mediate and resolve your complaint with the business. What is a solar panel system? Solar photovoltaic panels capture sunlight and convert it to electricity that can provide energy for your home. A solar panel system on your property must be professionally designed, installed, and inspected. In order to efficiently use solar power, your roof must receive a substantial amount of sunlight. If your roof faces north, or you may need to replace your roof in the near future, a solar panel system may not be a good option. In addition, there may be an additional expense if your solar company removes trees to increase sun exposure. The State of Rhode Island’s Office of Energy Resources’ Residential Guide to Going Solar contains valuable information that describes how different solar panel systems operate and produce power to your home. Who pays for a solar panel system? You, the consumer. There is not currently a government program that provides consumers with free solar panels. Consumers can purchase solar panel systems outright or obtain financing. The consumer is generally responsible for the cost of maintenance and system repairs. As discussed below, Rhode Island consumers may be eligible for certain tax benefits and reimbursements from their utility that may offset some of the cost of their purchase. But remember, only a purchaser can benefit from potential tax credits. Consumers can also lease solar panels, in a manner similar to a car lease. Under the terms of the lease, there is no guarantee that lease payments will be less than your current electricity bill. In either case, should the system not produce enough energy to power the home, consumers will likely receive an electric bill for additional usage from their utility provider. Does a solar panel system affect my home’s value? While it is not impossible for a solar panel system to increase the value of your home, there is currently no data to support this. If the solar panels are leased or owned by someone other than the consumer, the presence of a solar panel system could potentially lower the value of your home. Is there a government program that sells or provides solar panels? No. If a solar company suggests it is working with the state of Rhode Island, or that it offers services pursuant to a government program, it may be misrepresenting itself. While there may be certain tax benefits or other savings for using solar power, there are no government funded or sponsored solar companies in Rhode Island. Will I receive payments for energy that my solar panels produce? Rhode Islanders may be eligible for net metering, a program run by the Renewable Energy Fund which allows consumers to receive bill credits from their utility company for excess energy created by their solar panel system. Net metered systems are eligible for a grant from the Renewable Energy Fund, which must be applied to by the solar installer. Rhode Islanders may also be eligible for the Renewable Energy Growth program, which is managed by Rhode Island Energy and consists of a fixed contract whereby Rhode Island Energy customers sell their power back to the grid. Click here to learn more about the REG program. Eligible systems can qualify for either the Renewable Energy Fund program or the Renewable Energy Growth program, but not both. Information about these programs can be found on the Office of Energy Resources website here. What kind of tax credit could I qualify for by using a solar panel system? There is a federal tax credit on the cost of solar panel systems installed through the end of 2033. Purchasers are the only ones who qualify for the tax credit, and purchasers only benefit if they owe federal income tax. To find out whether you qualify, visit the IRS website and/or consult a tax professional. Will I still receive an electric bill if I install solar panels? Yes. Consumers will still receive an electric bill from Rhode Island Energy, although that bill may have no balance or include a credit for some consumers. As an interconnected utility customer, you may also still be responsible for covering certain customer charges that appear as line items at the bottom of your electricity bill. Note that many Rhode Islanders will still have a substantial electric bill during winter months when their system produces less power. How much do solar panels cost? Residential solar panels typically cost tens of thousands of dollars, but prices could vary dramatically so make sure you obtain multiple quotes. The price of solar panels may change depending on things like the cost of the solar panels themselves, other ancillary products like batteries, whether you need a new roof or trees removed, the cost of installation, and financing charges. Always ask for a breakdown of what you are being charged and compare quotes from different providers. Beware that many solar panel companies will only include a single price in their proposed contract and documentation. Ask questions about how they arrived at that number, what various system components and services will cost, and how much you may be charged for financing the system. You may also be able to negotiate a cheaper price. Many solar panel companies and salespeople are compensated by the difference between the price a customer pays and what they spend on purchasing and installing your panels. How should I respond to aggressive sales tactics by a solar power company? Door-to-door salespeople may make certain claims that misrepresent the financial savings that can be provided by the use of solar power, or state that you will not pay for electricity once you begin using solar power. An honest company will be transparent and upfront about the costs you will pay over time. If you take out a solar loan or sign a lease, you will receive a monthly bill from the solar company or loan company. Any door-to-door salesperson who tells you that time is running out, or attempts to hurry your decision to choose whether solar power is right for you, may be misrepresenting what their company can offer. Ask for references and read the contract terms closely before you sign. Under Rhode Island law, you may cancel your contract any time before midnight the third business day after making a purchase from a door-to-door salesperson. What should I look for in a contract with a solar company before signing? Beware contract terms that sound too good to be true. Make sure you are comfortable with the installer’s knowledge and experience. Pose questions to your contractor and any subcontractors to determine whether they are adequately insured and warrantied. Any contract you sign should state who is performing the work on your home, and detail what is included and what is not included in the total project costs. Pay close attention to the following items within any contract you sign with a solar power company: How long does the contract last? How much will you pay on a monthly basis? Will you pay any other costs or fees? Does the contract clearly lay out what is included and what is not included in total project costs? How did the company come to the final price you are being charged? Who will provide maintenance or repair services, and how much will they cost you? If you own your home, how much will the contract affect your ability to sell your home? Were you presented with options for RI-specific incentives, such as the Renewable Energy Fund (REF) or Renewable Energy Growth (REG) Programs? Is the electrician performing the work that was subcontracted, or an employee of the installation company? What is the length of the workmanship warranty in the contract? Does the contract include performance specifications for the system being installed, including an estimate of the amount of electricity the system will produce? Were you presented information regarding the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC)? If leasing or financing the system, does the proposed payment schedule protect you by allowing payment to be withheld until the system: Passes local code inspections? Receives utility interconnection approval? Shown to be operating properly? After installation, be sure you have received informational materials about how your solar panels work, and that your solar company has performed all necessary inspections. Are solar panel companies regulated in Rhode Island? The residential solar panel industry in Rhode Island often involves three different companies: a sales company, an installation contractor or company, and a financing company. Solar Panel Sales Companies: Solar panel sales companies are not regulated by any state agency and do not need to be registered or licensed to operate in Rhode Island. After they enter into an agreement with you to install solar panels, they may subcontract out the installation to a separate installation company. Because solar panel companies and salespeople are not regulated, be cautious about providing personal information such as your social security number or tax returns. Before signing a contract or providing personal information, ask the salesperson for a business card or website and/or a phone number to confirm their credentials. If you have experienced improper treatment or services from a Rhode Island solar panel sales company, you can file a complaint with our Office. Receiving complaints helps us know when problems exist and when companies with questionable practices need to be investigated. Solar Panel Installation Companies: Companies that install your solar panels must be either licensed contractors with the Department of Business Regulation’s Contractors Registration and Licensing Board or as a Renewable Energy Professional with the Office of Energy Resources and Department of Labor and Training. Make sure you check that your installation company is a registered contractor or licensed professional here and here. If you have a complaint about the installation of your solar panels or roof, you should also file a complaint with the Department of Business Regulation here. Although it is important that any contractor be licensed with the state of Rhode Island, licensure should not be confused with a recommendation for that contractor’s performance, reliability, or trustworthiness. If you have concerns about a solar company in Rhode Island, contact our Office here.