Complaints increasing amid record solar panel installations in SC

The latest numbers reflect the most installations seen since 2014 which is when the growth of solar really started in the Palmetto State.
Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 2:08 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 13, 2023 at 7:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Though solar panel sales have reached a high in South Carolina, reaching a total of nearly 35,000 through July of last year, not everyone is happy with their purchase.

The latest numbers reflect the most installations seen since 2014 which is when the growth of solar really started in the Palmetto State.

Nancy Gilbert has lived in the same house in Charleston County for 26 years. She says that in 2016, a salesman for Vivint – now Sunrun – convinced Nancy’s husband that solar was the way to go for their household because their house faced the right direction.

“We felt we were doing our part of helping the world so we went with it,” Nancy says.

Unfortunately, Nancy’s husband passed away in May of this year.

“We got to the point where we looked at the contract and my dad was the sole signer so we told Sunrun to come get your stuff,” Nancy’s son Darren Gilbert says. “Get your panels and get them off the house, we don’t want them. She’s not signing the contract. Well, it turns out there’s an heirs clause in the lease.”

Nancy explains, as it stands now, they’re getting some electricity for themselves, they’re sending some to the electric company and some to Sunrun.

“We’re in the hole and now they’ve raised the percentage on the lease so now we’re losing even more money,” Nancy explains. “Our electric bill is fairly reasonable. We’re somewhere in the neighborhood of $125 to $150 a month. So I don’t have a problem with that. I just don’t think that I ought to be footing the bill for them to make money on my roof.”

Darren says they are six years in for leasing the panels and they have 14 years left.

“I calculated it out,” Darren says. “It’s going to cost roughly $12,000 more over the next 12 years than just paying for an electric bill.”

And the Gilbert’s aren’t the only people having difficulty with a solar company, a reason rules have been established.

The passage of the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act (Act 236) in 2014 ushered in a new era of solar leasing in South Carolina, and solar installations have grown exponentially since that time. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of solar installations has grown by more than 17,000. This growth represents a capacity increase of more than 460 MW. In addition to authorizing solar leasing, Act 236 established the operating guidelines for net energy metering and provided regulated utilities with a means for cost recovery via incentives for renewable energy procurement. The latter incentivizes utilities to procure electricity from utility-scale solar installations and to develop programs to increase the adoption of consumer-scale solar installations.

The Energy Freedom Act (Act 62) of 2019 instituted changes to solar regulation in South Carolina, including lifting the caps on net metering and solar leasing.

“We did notice there were a lot of bad actors that came on the scene with the 2014 Act 236,” Stacey Washington, the Senior Program Manager for the Office of Regulatory Staff, says. “So with the Energy Freedom Act, one of the first things in there is to make sure there is consumer protection regulations established.”

The Department of Consumer Affairs has regulations for people who purchase or finance solar installations. They have received 379 complaints since 2014 – when Act 236 was implemented to help spur the growth of solar. The Office of Regulatory Staff has regulations for people who lease solar installations. They have had about two dozen complaints since 2017, most of which were against Sunrun and Vivint, which are now the same company.

“They’re supposed to receive information on the front end about what all the landscape is in South Carolina, what the tax credits are, the disclosures that are needed on the front end so they know what they’re getting into,” Washington says.

When it comes to Nancy and her situation, she’s just trying to get in touch with Sunrun at this point.

“I’m not asking for free anything. I just want fair,” Nancy says.

Darren adds that he would not advise leasing the panels.

“If you can’t afford to buy them outright, just don’t do it.”

The state says they would like to see an increase for solar but they don’t have any specific goals.

The state encourages consumers to do their homework before any kind of agreement and the Energy Office is happy to answer any questions or help with any kind of issues you may be having with your solar panel company.

If you would like to learn more or have any questions, you can find more information here.