Winsett: Scammers adapt to green energy

Winsett: Scammers adapt to green energy


April 15th, 2011 by By Jim Winsett in Business Around the Region

What advice does the Better Business Bureau offer consumers and business as they consider making smart solar and other energy-efficient investments?

A With warm weather approaching, many consumers and businesses are looking to stick to a budget when making home or business improvements. Many are turning to green solar energy as a solution. BBB advises consumers to be smart about investing in any home or business improvement project.

Solar energy scams are no exception when it comes to the typical contracting scam. Fraudulent contractors prey on those who are unfamiliar with their product. They may show up at your door, advertise in local papers or deliver fliers to your home or business.

Like the typical contracting scam, solar paneling scams can range anywhere from issues with the installation and costs to the actual solar panels themselves.

Consumers and business need to know how

solar energy works and how the benefits will affect them before investing $5,000 to $100,000 in any solar energy products.

There are many state and federal rebates that offer a reduction in the initial costs. You may view and research tax incentives at

However, consumers and business that opt for a "greener" remodel this spring need to be weary of the less-than-reputable and unqualified contractors that promise a variety of "green" services at cut-rate prices. Consumers and business need to find an installer that is trustworthy and knowledgeable on the benefits of solar energy or other energy efficient products.

As with any kind of business or home improvement contractor, owners need to be cautious of installers that promise too-good-to-be-true offers. It pays to research and look beyond the lowest bid when selecting a contractor.

BBB recommends considering the following before investing in solar energy or energy-efficient products:

• Determine if solar energy is right for you. Because of the high costs associated with the initial investment of solar power, it is important to conduct a self energy audit to determine if solar energy is right for you.

Usually, if your monthly bill is less than $100, consider other ways to save energy that cost less. Typically today, the utility company serving your area will assist with energy efficient evaluation and savings options.

• Consider all the costs associated with solar and energy-efficient products. Ask about all the costs associated with the maintenance and upkeep of the system. Determine if the benefits and savings outweigh the costs over the long run.

• Stay informed about state and federal incentive programs. Depending on your location, state and federal programs can save you as much as 50 percent on installation costs.

Be sure to understand the terms and conditions of the incentive programs and conduct your own research prior to signing a contract with an installer. For the latest information on state programs, visit

• Be cautious of installers that promise no out-of-pocket costs prior to reviewing your specific situation. Be leery if an installer suggests obtaining credit for the full amount of the system even though they are promising very low or no costs because of rebates.

• If you are thinking about a solar panel, make sure the roof of your home or business is equipped to sustain the system. Even though a properly installed solar system will not damage your roof, make sure your roof is in good condition before you begin the installation to avoid any future problems.

• Understand how solar and energy-efficient products work. You can take full advantage of the benefits in solar energy and other energy-efficient products once you know how they work.

For instance with solar, panels facing south with no shade obstructions receiving maximum sun exposure during the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., will provide the greatest percent of energy. Savings occur when you have excess energy that is not consumed by your household or business.

This excess energy can then be credited to your utility bill, saving you money. Overall, be advised that after rebates, payback might take eight to 10 years.

For more advice you can trust and information you need for hiring the right contractor for business and home improvement projects, go to

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at