I’ve become alarmed by the increase in fraudulent practices involving solar panel installations that target our most vulnerable residents in Fresno County. These residents are promised substantial savings on their energy bills. Instead, they find themselves on the hook for thousands of dollars, left with inferior work and, in some cases, have property liens to pay.

In late June, my office collaborated with the state Department of Community Services and Development on three workshops to share information with community agencies, consumer advocates, energy businesses and others about these incidents and what can be done. Our partners included the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, Central California Legal Services, the Contractors State License Board, the California Public Utilities Commission, and the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

Let me be clear: my concerns are not about all solar panel installation companies. There are good actors who abide by the rules and regulations that our state has established to help Californians make their homes more energy efficient. 

Our focus is on the unethical practices undertaken by certain third-party contractors and installers, who typically prey on senior citizens and low-income residents. Be assured that law enforcement and other agencies that are investigating these cases are working to relieve residents of economic responsibility without damage to their credit. And, they are planning to take action.

For example, at one of the workshops we heard from an attorney for Central California Legal Services, who said her agency has seen a spike in calls from communities, including Parlier and Fresno. She shared this story: a door-to-door salesman told an elderly, Spanish-speaking gentleman that he was eligible for free solar panels. The salesman told the gentleman that he needed to sign on a computer tablet so they could inspect his roof — what he really unknowingly signed was a contract.

CCLS was able to get him out of the contract without harming his credit, plus a $900 reimbursement.  

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