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Families sink thousands of dollars into solar panels they say don’t work

<i>WLOS</i><br/>North Carolina families sink thousands of dollars into solar panels they say don't work.
WLOS
WLOS
North Carolina families sink thousands of dollars into solar panels they say don't work.

By Karen Zatkulak

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — Many mountain families say they spent tens-of-thousands of dollars to go green, only to get solar panels they say don’t work.

They called News 13’s Help Desk, feeling stuck and looking for answers.

As it turns out, the company has now shut its doors and filed for bankruptcy.

Fourteen panels with a big promise – to drop the electric bill at Liz Childs’ home by about 60%. Childs says that promise was instantly broken by a solar panel system that’s also broken.

“It’s very stressful, very upsetting, that a company has put this much time and effort into making sure you get it but won’t do nothing (sic) to make sure it works,” she said.

Childs lives in Candler and says she met with a salesperson for Power Home Solar last fall. She says she signed a contract, got a loan for the payments, and the panels were installed.

But she says the system has never really worked.

“So, I’ve just been trying and trying week after week, month after month, to get them back out here,” Childs said.

Instead of lowering her bills, she says they’ve increased. Last September, without solar, she showed us documents that show she paid $300 for electricity. This year, with the panels, it was $415.

Data from Haywood County electric shows her solar panels have generated zero kilowatts in recent months.

“I’m paying almost $60,000 over 25 years for something that don’t work,” Childs said.

She also showed us letters from Pink Energy, formerly Power Home Solar, blaming the problems on “product failures” from partner company – Generac.

In West Asheville, Ona Armstrong said similar solar panels from the same company barely work.

She said a salesperson from Power Home Solar sat at her kitchen table and promised about 70% off her electric bills with solar panels. However, she said their average savings is only about 20% off.

“I was sort of doing the math and thinking, ‘Well, that would be a good financial decision,’ because I’ll be paying the mortgage on the solar panels, but I’ll just have this teensy tiny electric bill,” Armstrong said. “But what the reality is for the last four years, I have been paying an extra mortgage on these solar panels plus energy bills that were pretty much the same.”

On top of that, she said the panels were installed incorrectly. She says the mistake left holes in her roof that has now caused water damage in several rooms of her home.

“I would like to get money back around all of the water damage, get money back around the lack of performance that I was promised, and then with that money find a company who can optimize the system that I have,” said Armstrong.

She says she’s talked with many other families in similar situations in Western North Carolina and across the country.

“I just hope we can get the word out that this company is not to be trusted, and then I hope that we can get legal help to get what we’re owed,” Armstrong said.

In Weaverville, Kelly Stricklin says his 16 panels have never resulted in any savings.

“We expected the power bill to be cut. Instead it’s never changed,” Stricklin said.

He says his system cost about $50,000.

He said he’s now behind on his loan to pay off the panels, ruining his credit.

News 13 confirmed through the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office that there had been 270 complaints filed against Pink Energy, formerly Power Home Solar. The company was based in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Pink Energy sold solar panels to homes in other states, as well. The complaints stretch from Florida to Ohio, and some date back to 2016.

Most report similar issues as the families in Western North Carolina, solar panel systems that simply don’t work, and a company that refused to fix the problems.

News 13 wanted to speak with Pink Energy, but in September, the company closed unexpectedly and permanently. The website leaves no contact information for anyone, including customers, except for an email and phone number for Generac.

Earlier in October, Pink Energy filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy. News 13 also confirmed that on August 1, Pink Energy filed a lawsuit against Generac claiming that they’ve “suffered significant monetary damages as well as the loss of goodwill from the product defects in Generac’s SNAP RS components and the resulting system failures.”

After a request for an interview, Generac sent a written statement saying, in part, “in certain situations, especially when product installation guidelines have not been followed, as appears to be the case with some Pink Energy installations, customers may have experienced certain issues with a particular Generac component of their solar energy system…”

Generac said they are working to contact customers and provide warranty services on their products since Pink Energy shut down.

This is the complete response from Generac:

In certain situations, especially when product installation guidelines have not been followed, as appears to be the case with some Pink Energy installations, customers may have experienced certain issues with a particular Generac component of their solar energy system – the SnapRS 801 or 801A. We have introduced a new next-generation rapid shutdown device, which has been designed and engineered to the highest reliability standards. We are committed to getting those upgrades and warranty replacements taken care of as quickly as possible and those steps are well underway.

Generac is a leading manufacturer of solar + storage solutions, and we sell our products to a wide range of distributors and solar contractors. (It is important to note that Generac does not manufacturer, offer or sell any solar panels.) We’ve been in business for more than 60 years, and we’ve done that by standing by our promises and products.

We are aware of Pink Energy’s recent Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Over the past few weeks, we have already contracted with high-quality third-party providers to perform warranty services on Generac’s products, now that Pink Energy will no longer be providing this service to its customers.

We understand that consumers are frustrated with Pink Energy and their inaction. However, Generac remains committed to our customers. Customers with questions about the Generac components of their solar systems can reach out to solarsupport@generac.com or 1-800-396-1281 for assistance.

We ask for your patience as we work to assist customers as quickly as possible.

News 13 reached out to Pisgah Legal to find out what those stuck in this position should do.

Molly Maynard says this is a major issue in the mountains right now.

“We’re absolutely seeing this in our area, and I would say in an increasing number over the last couple of years,” said Maynard.

She said solar scams can wipe out families’ financials and even impact their credit or mortgage.

“Anytime there’s a high-pressure sales technique where someone is asking you to make a commitment, sign a contract, invest a lot of money, make changes to your home and not giving you time to look into that, that is a big red flag,” Maynard said.

She said companies often use door-to-door, high-pressure sales techniques to get people to sign contracts with clauses saying they can’t sue if the product doesn’t work.

So, what should people do if they’re stuck in this situation?

“That’s a really hard question because often this is attached to someone’s house. It’s not like you can go back to the store and return it, and sometimes there is damage to rooves and that type of thing,” said Maynard.

She says it’s best to reach out to an attorney to find out your options.

“We’ve seen these companies threaten foreclosure of peoples’ homes, which not all of them have the right to do, but it’s really significant consequences for people,” said Maynard.

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