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The number of active C-46 solar contractor licenses issued by CSLB has more than doubled since December 2008, from 439 to 1,019, as of December 2014.
Falling prices for home solar systems, new financing options, tax incentives, and improved technology have made solar projects the hottest sector in the construction industry. This has given rise to the number of consumer complaints to CSLB (Contractors State Licensing Board) about unscrupulous practices, particularly in the areas of power generation and cost savings that didn’t measure up to claims; and hard-sell, deceptive financing that hooks consumers into long-term loan obligations.
The number of complaints involving solar is three times more than any other licensed contracting, citing misleading energy production estimates, unavailable rebates, or inaccurate projected savings.
The following are observations and suggestions about what solar contractors should be doing–or not:
Don’t Oversell Solar Capabilities or Cost-Savings
Contractors are urged to make sure their solar projects produce the amount of power they claim, taking into account the variables of design, equipment, installation, and site location.
Ed Murray, owner of Aztec Solar in Rancho Cordova, another CSLB SME (subject matter expert), agreed that “there have been overzealous sales people who overstate savings and overcharge customers.” This hurts the overall reputation of the industry.
To prevent misleading expectations, Brent Sloan, Solar Program Manager with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) commented “I’m seeing more and more contractors work the numbers for customers. It’s part of the maturation of the market.”
Home Improvement Salesperson Registration is Required for Outside Solar Sales and Financing
Trained and licensed sales staff are more qualified and educated about the benefits of installing a solar system. And should be able to more clearly explain the terms of contracts and the equipment used.
A California contracting license is required to sell or install solar systems. Using licensed sub-contractors does not satisfy the law.
Work Within the License Classification
Only contractors holding “A” General Engineering, “B” General Building, or C-46 Solar licenses can perform solar construction and installation. Contractors with a C-4 Boiler, Hot-Water Heating and Steam Fitting; C-10 Electrical; C-36 Plumbing; or C-53 Swimming Pool license can only do solar work within their classification as defined by CSLB regulations. Those without the correct license should be reported. This benefits the industry as a whole.
Build a Reputation of Quality
Submitting design plans that comply with city or county and utility standards, ensures a safe, quality installation. But knowing these requirements takes a little more effort when individual cities, counties, and utility departments have differing permit requirements. Pete Gregson, of Advance Power Inc., agreed that “Some counties are over-the-counter [to obtain permits], others are massive paperwork.”
Stay Current with New Legislation Affecting the Industry
In 2015 a new law, Assembly Bill 2188, takes effect requiring cities and counties to create an expedited, streamlined process for residential rooftop solar systems through local ordinances by September 30, 2015. Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) says this will lead to a clearer and more uniform statewide permit process, eventually lowering consumer costs.