Staying Scam-Free


A former president and some new robots zipping around their tracks on the exhibit floor ranked among the attention-grabbing highlights for many attendees at Solar Power International (SPI) last month in Orlando, Fla.

Unlike at last year's SPI, when SolarWorld's trade complaint against China became the story everyone was talking about, no single news event emerged from this year's conference as the indisputably big story.

One important issue was raised on the first day of the show, when Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, spoke at the opening session.

You can find a full recap of Resch's remarks – as well as the more optimistic comments from Julia Hamm, the Solar Electric Power Association's president and CEO – on page 6.

One of his points – about the importance of upholding business ethics – merits particular attention and continued dialogue in the industry right now.

As Resch warned during his SPI speech, the October issue of Consumer Reports (CR) does, in fact, make a public statement claiming that"solar panel scams," now rank among the most common types of fraud targeting U.S. consumers.

Yes, more negative publicity – spread by a reputable consumer-protection organization to an American public that has already heard the word"Solyndra," often enough to last a lifetime.

Fortunately, CR takes a non-sensationalistic, practical approach in its article, recommending that consumers seek out reputable contractors through sources such as the Go Solar California website. And despite what a less-than-honest installation salesperson might claim, residential solar is not appropriate for every site and cannot always deliver fantastic payback numbers, CR adds.

Solar fraud can appear in many forms, in addition to CR's classic example of the unsavory contractor who cashes a hefty deposit check and skips out of town before a single panel is installed.

Bad apples include not only unknown fringe players with blatantly criminal business practices, but also established companies that twist tax law into gray areas of legality or selectively omit essential facts when presenting their promises of decades of solar savings to potential customers.

The latter types of practices have long existed in the industry, perhaps with an unspoken common awareness. More and more, they are now coming to the surface – to everyone's ultimate benefit.Â

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Solar Industry.

To submit your own contribution to Viewpoints, email Jessica Lillian at

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