Overselling solar sends wrong message to Florida's senior citizens

This opinion piece originally appeared in The Sun Sentinel.

I read the recent opinion piece by Lynn Jurich about her solar “guarantee” of a brighter future for the Sunshine State and could only cringe for those senior citizens who may hurry out to purchase a solar system. I am all for a healthy, cleaner and safe environment, but when we see the word “guarantee,” as used in the headline, attached to products and services, it can cause us great concern.

Our vulnerable senior citizens are easy targets by clever operatives and can quickly be deceived. Many of our senior citizens live on fixed incomes and will buy into the creative sales pitches like those made by Ms. Jurich, chief executive officer and co-founder of Sunrun. This could result in being dealt a very disappointing hand.

One-third of our Florida population is over 55 and its getting older by the day. Our seniors love discounts and often times are looking for ways to save their precious resources. A recent April 20th decision by the Florida Public Service Commission allows Sunrun to offer a zero-down agreement to residents allowing customers to receive immediate savings. This sounds almost too good to be true. As my dad used to say, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Hopefully, many Sun Sentinel senior readers will remember the Edsel before rushing out to buy a rooftop solar system. As you recall, the Edsel was overhyped, unattractive and overpriced. I'm not saying Ms. Jurich is pushing an Edsel, but we need to tread cautiously. When a vendor is pushing “the no money down” button while advocating lower electric rates, we hope our senior citizens will focus on the details.

Before buying a system, pay attention to the terms, rates, fees and maintenance expenses. It has only been a short time since seniors were getting burned by some of the crafty solar operators by unscrupulous tactics. In March, the New Mexico Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Vivint Solar over claims of unfair and unconscionable business practices, fraud and racketing. Consumers complained of false statements about door to door sales pitches and their billing practices. In some cases, prosecutors indicate Vivint Solar filed improper real estate records making it difficult for consumers to sell their home. Do you know what is really alarming about this company? Vivint is formally known as APX Alarm Security Systems, Inc., a company who agreed to pay $10 million to settle a Florida lawsuit over deceptive sales practices.

Another company, Going Green Solar admitted cheating customers on the sale of energy systems that they promised would reduce utility bills and protect consumers from electricity rate increases. Going Green Solar specifically targeted senior citizens telling them that without one of their systems their energy costs would rise dramatically over the next 20 years. Sadly, this company took advantage of our older Americans during high pressure sales pitches both on the telephone and in home presentations which did not result in savings promised.

Even though it may seem like the perfect service or solution, does a vulnerable senior citizen need a 20-30 year product that could potentially lower the value of their home? Older Americans need to be cautious.

American Senior Alliance would like to offer our tips before seniors make a purchase or lease.

  • Do your research.
  • Avoid high pressure sales tactics.
  • Get several quotes.
  • Ask for references.
  • Examine contracts, lease and financing carefully.
  • Study manufacturer warranties closely.
  • Seek a CPA or attorney's opinion if necessary.

Ms. Jurich may be selling the best system that could provide substantial savings to Florida residents, but with the history of many solar vendors across the country, we hope she will think twice about her sales pitch.

Conwell Hooper is executive director of American Senior Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that advocates on behalf of America's greatest generation. He can be reached at conwell@americansenioralliance.com.

This opinion piece originally appeared in The Sun Sentinel.

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