Some homeowners ripped off in 'going green' scam

August 5, 2011 3:46:27 PM PDT
Going green can save you money on your electricity bill, but some homeowners say they are being ripped off after trying to help the environment. The problem is happening across the country.

Hundreds of people say they were ripped off by contractors who promised going green would help save money. But in reality, some homeowners say instead they're going broke after paying out thousands of dollars and getting nothing in return.

These wind and solar panels are now an expensive eyesore on Charles Bohmfalk's roof. A year ago he paid more than $7,000 to have them installed. His contractor promised the system would eventually pay for itself by saving Bohmfalk $1,000 a year on his electric bills.

"We have not saved one penny," Bohmfalk said.

He added the system has not generated one single kilowatt of electricity. And now the contractor won't return his calls.

"It's been worthless," said Bohmfalk.

He is one of several hundred people who complained about solar systems to the Better Business Bureau in 2010.

"I think it's horrible that contractors take advantage of people that are trying to do good by their environment by going green," said Paula Fleming of the BBB.

Solar systems can be expensive. BBB complaints show homeowners paid between $6,000 to $60,000 to go green and some got nothing in return.

"It has a devastating effect on the family who works hard for their money and they think they're doing something good," Fleming said.

Another man, who did not want to appear on TV, says he was promised $2,000 in rebates after paying a contractor $12,000 to install solar panels. Now one year later, the rebates are still a no show.

"This system, this particular system has not shown its benefit," the man said.

The Solar Energy Industries Association says these growing problems are giving going green a bad rap. But there are good installers out there.

"Most people are having a great experience with installation and they're usually surprised to find out how affordable the system is and how quickly and easily it can be installed," said Monique Hanis of the SEIA.

To avoid falling for a solar scam, you should: use a licensed contractor; see if they belong to a national solar energy professional association; and get references and several estimates from different companies.

Also, don't forget that it is expensive to add solar panels and you may not see them pay for themselves for years.

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