Arizona State Sen. Debbie Lesko (R-Glendale) plans to continue her efforts to protect homeowners from deceptive and misleading solar panel leases by introducing a follow-up bill to S.B. 1465 aimed at requiring clearer language in advertising and lease agreements.
"In general, it will add further consumer protections on rooftop solar leases, so that consumers have a clearer understanding if the lease will be beneficial to them or not," Lesko recently told the Arizona Business Daily.
S.B. 1465, which passed the state legislature unanimously last March, aimed to protect consumers from false advertising and deceptive tactics to lease solar panels to homeowners with promises of saving thousands and increasing the value of their homes.
Despite the passage of SB 1465, Lesko told Arizona Business Daily still sees problems that need to be resolved in the solar industry.
“Many people are still coming to me with issues, explaining that the panels are not right or that they are not getting the performance they are supposed to get," she said. "In the end, it turns out they are paying more than they were before the panels. Even real estate agents are telling me that it is starting to become a problem with regards to property values and homebuying.”
Lesko explained the changes she is seeking will further require solar companies to disclose the realities of leasing or buying solar panels so consumers have a better understanding of the pros and cons.
“Companies need to disclose very common-sense things, like the total cost over the 20-year lease, payment plan options, how long one will pay and monthly payment amounts.” Lesko said. "Right now, there are some companies that have escalator clauses of up to 2.9 percent. That means interest rates go up each year. There needs to be more consumer protection around these leasing practices."
For example, Lesko explained that recently one homeowner needed to sell her home because of financial issues after her husband's death. There was a buyer who was willing to pay cash for the home, but the solar company refused to let the buyer take over the financing of the solar panels, so the deal fell through.
Lesko argues that such legislation helps consumers become more prepared to enter long-term agreements worth tens of thousands of dollars, and it is not about being pro or con solar. She is simply trying to protect the consumer by making sure these businesses are meeting requirements similar to other leasing and financing agreements.
Lesko said nearly a year after the passage of S.B. 1465 she is still seeing marketing materials that claim to offer great deals, but in reality border on a scam. She find it even more disconcerting that these marketing materials appear to target senior citizens.
“I started looking at the marketing materials surrounding solar leasing and found a lot of information based on erroneous assumptions, like ‘Solar can save you $50,000 compared to other utilities,'" Lesko said. "It just doesn't add up. It also seems like the main people targeted for these leasing agreements are senior citizens.”
In fact, Lesko said she initially wrote S.B. 1465 last year after an elderly couple in her district contacted her about their purchase of solar panels, only to find that some of the claims made by the seller were deceptive.
“The salesman told my constituents that the value of their home was going to go up $25,000 once they put the solar panels on their roof,” she said. “In reality, they can’t sell their house because of the lease they have on their solar panels.”