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  • Big Mess with my Solar Panel Company

    In 2014, I bought a house that had solar panels on the roof. The previous owners were about 2 years into a 20 year lease. The way it was explained to me, you pay nothing and just get the electricity. Seemed too good to be true but hey free electricity is free electricity. This system makes from 250ish kWh in February to like 850 kWh or so in June, which is pretty solid production.
    So time ticks along, and I'm getting all this electricity. I'm thinking of getting a Tesla car and electric heat pumps to heat the house cause I gotta do something with all this power. Every month, I get an electric bill from nstar that doesn't show my power consumption or production, just the net. There is always excess power so my bill is always zero, but I don't really know how much I'm making or how much I'm consuming. The 250/850 numbers are this surplus, I don't know how much I'm actually making but I have enough info to know it's a pretty sweet deal.

    From time to time, the local "rep" (or whatever they call it) walks around the neighborhood and chats with everyone. They came around in 2015 and I was like, how do you guys make any money if I get all the free electricity and you get nothing? Their response was basically "yeah isn't it a great deal!" Well, yeah it was a pretty great deal.

    Also around 2015, I got this weird call from the solar company saying there was a problem with my panels. So I call them up, and they say my panels are no longer on the internet, and asked if I changed my wifi network. I tell them I've never had internet at this house and don't know what they are talking about. They put me on hold for a while then come back and say everything is all set. That was weird.

    So fast forward to this past spring, 2016. I started getting voicemails from the company saying my account was past due by a few months, and even some emails. There were always dollar amounts involved, but never the same amount. So I talked to them, and they told me my last few payments hadn't gone through and I was a few months behind. I told him I had had the house for almost two years and never paid them anything, and never knew I had to pay them anything as I was always told everything was free. He then explained to me that the way it works is that I pay them for EVERY kilowatt hour these panels produce, and then if theres an excess, I bank that can use it later. 2 years into owning this house and this is the first time they ever explained this to me. So I immediately walked outside, shut the panels off with the large cartoon sized on/off lever, and zip tied it into the off position. Since then, my electric bills have been straight charges so I know its been off and stayed off. Since this, my average electric bill has been about $15 but it all comes out of built up credit. Did I mention I don't live in this house yet? And everything is super efficient, LED, lots of insulation etc. I plan on living there eventually but I'm fixing up a lot first. So this guy was very confused and I was very confused. He told me he would look into it and try to figure out whats going on and get back to me. I say ok. Months go by and I never hear a thing. I'm going on with my life.

    Now lets move on to late this past fall 2016, early winter. I get an odd "we need you to call us asap" voice mail and an accompanying letter that was worded to be very threatening. It said I owed them some huge amount of money, far bigger than before. I had to address the issue soon or they would shut the system off and potentially sue me or something along those lines. Now keep in mind, I still have yet to see a single bill from them. I've never paid them a dime, and I wouldn't even know how to pay them if I wanted to. Which I didn't. So I called the closing lawyer which thankfully was a friend of a friend. So he contacted them and eventually got copies of all of the invoices. The basic story is this. They don't do paper, they are an electronic billing company. But they never set up my account. So they never sent me a bill. And the account just kept building up more and more. They never explained how it took two years for them to notice. But I had all the bills. Interestingly, half of the amount they say I owe them (about $1500) was from the months the system was off. Those bills has a little asterisk on them saying "estimated use, call for details". And what they did was, for each month, they just used the amount that the panels made the month before. So the November 2016 bill is the same amount as the November 2015, and October 2016 is the same as 2015 etc.

    We have yet to contact the company again at this point because I'm not sure yet what my goal is. Originally, my goal was to get these pointless panels off my house without paying them a dime. Half of their bill is BS anyway, and the other half is, in my mind, also BS because had they ever explained how these panels worked, I easily could have turned them off after the first month and not been racking up these huge bills. I'm practically rebuilding this house, money is very tight. I have no interested in prepaying $100+ per month for electricity when I'm using a tiny fraction of that.

    But then just two days ago I found this forum. I posted my concerns about how the company would uninstall the panels, and the condition of the roof afterwards. It was suggested that theres a chance the solar company would just give me the panels if I told them to remove them? That seems unlikely to me. The system is only 4-5 years old, they do no-cost-equipment leases, so I doubt they would let me keep 'have' the equipment. But if that's an option, that very much changes my thoughts on things. I'd be willing to pay their absurd bills if it was essentially buying me this system. Then I would really be getting all of the electricity for free, and I wouldn't have to deal with patching 200 holes in my roof.

    I'm hoping I can get some insight from this forum on this situation, and if I have any good options, or any options I don't know that I have. We have not yet told them that I want the system off the house, so I don't even know what, if any expense there will be with that.

    Even if I somehow get to keep the panels, it's not all good news. The snow avalanches off those things had destroyed the handicap ramp and the metal roof over the back door. I'm taking apart the ramp anyway but the roof may not make it through this Winter unfortunately.


  • #2
    First and most important question, did you ever sign a lease document from them staying you'd be responsible for the kwh it produced?

    Go through all your closing docs, searching for anything with their name on it, anything with solar, probably labeled lease or Power Purchase Agreement. If needed, you may want to go visit the closing escrow officer you used and ask them if they have record of the system in your package.

    If you did, then you are in the hook for the amounts you Actually used, not the BS estimated months. You'll need to force them to only bill actuals, which may automatically update once you turn the cartoon lever back on, or it may require the Internet connection restored so the solar inverter can send the actual numbers. But the contract you signed will state all of this and the terms.

    If no transfer docs exist in your end, ask the lessor to provide the contractual documents between you and them. if none again, you probably bought the house and the seller screwed up and didn't terminate his old lease properly to transfer it to you. It probably means the lessor didnt file a lien on the attached solar, or did but Title company missed it. If contract and lies both dont exist, that means thr old owner is on the hook for those charges, not you. But if thats true, how did they get your phone number?

    Either way lessor has the right to come remove the system as it is their property. It may be a grey area whether you owe them anything for the 2 years it's been on, since it wasn't your agreement but you did use their equipment to generase power. You'll want to get paid Legal advice there.

    Some folks have come here for advice in your situation and we're told to wait it out, hoping the leasing company would just give it away to the new owner. They didnt, they came and removed the panels eventually. The idea of waiting being it costs money for them to remove and fix the roof. But those are factors outside our know ledge as it the leasing companyso decision.

    If you never signed the power purchase agreement, probably the worst thing they can do is send you to collectioms for nonpayment and hit your credit score, thats very easy for companies to do. They may try to take you to court for collecting the electricity you actually used in the two years, but that seems weak imo however see below.

    I am NOT an attorney and this info is worth what you paido for it.
    Last edited by cebury; 12-13-2016, 04:39 AM.

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    • #3
      Alternatively, if no agreement signed, you can just call them and ask them to remove it. You'll want to check the roof for leaks as best you can or hire a roofer to patch up and warrant it.

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      • #4
        I do have a copy of the original owners contract, but I never signed that. I did sign some sort of transfer agreement, but I can't find it in any of my mortgage paperwork (which is strange because I'm very organized and keep everything).

        Comment


        • #5
          Yeah that's probably what happened. The terms of the original owners contract probably still apply to you if you signed a transfer agreement. Should be stated in your agreement.
          That puts you in a really, really bad position. Your system was producing kwh you are paying for, but not using since the home is mostly vacant for two years. Yikes.

          The terms of those contracts (but I've only read 2) usually do not allow a way out other than paying off the agreement, aka buyout. It's usually incredibly high as
          they expect the guaranteed proceeds for the remainder of the term, your case like 14 more years worth of kwh credits.

          Time to read the details carefully.

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          • #6
            Hey all.... I want to ask a question on the forum, but I cannot find where to do this.. can someone help me please

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by tuscany View Post
              Hey all.... I want to ask a question on the forum, but I cannot find where to do this.. can someone help me please
              Go back one page and click the 'new post' button.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by tuscany View Post
                Hey all.... I want to ask a question on the forum, but I cannot find where to do this.. can someone help me please
                Upper left corner of main page , click on Solar Panel Forums, Chose a category such as SOLAR, GENERAL DISCUSSION. You should now see a NEW TOPIC tab near the top left of the page. The deal is you need to choose which sub forum your new topic is going to.
                2.2kw Suntech mono, Classic 200, NEW Trace SW4024

                Comment


                • #9
                  First advice: Get a lawyer. This could get ugly.
                  Next advice: Review every document you got during the closing of the house.
                  Also ask the solar company for a copy of the contract. There may be something in it about the sale of the house.

                  Honestly, you didn't do your due diligence in looking into the panels. The previous owner probably should have given you more information, but ultimately, you signed the contract to buy the house, and were given time to do your investigations.
                  This is why I don't like solar leases. It creates a huge mess when you sell the home.

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                  • #10
                    I'd start with a few things.:

                    1.) Get a clear, correct and complete understanding of what you signed and the legal ramifications that result from those signings.
                    2.) Download (free on the net) and read "Solar Power Your Home for Dummies". You'll benefit from learning how residential PV installation works and the various ways of paying for the power it produces, whether or not you wind up with any system.
                    3.) Reread Cebury's post.

                    Then:

                    4.) Consider getting a different attorney. Looks like your friend dropped the ball in this case with respect to her/his fiduciary responsibility to advise you and look out for your interests.

                    Take what you want of the above. Scrap the rest.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      So here's a bit of an update on things. The layer was always very gung-ho when i'd visit him in his office. But then when I'd email him a few days later to see what progress he'd made, he'd always be like "you may be out of luck". I told him why don't I first contact vivint myself and have them "correct" the estimated bill amounts from when I turned the system off. Then once they correct that, he can call them and try to work out some kind of termination deal.

                      Welp, vivint said the contracts says i'm responsible for paying for estimated amounts of electricity the solar panels made, even if the system is shut off. They tell me this a year and a half after I shut the system off. Remember this isn't my contract, the dumb ass previous home owners signed this contract.

                      Speaking of which, vivint has sent me the contract the original home owners signed, and a copy of a generic, blank transfer agreement. They didn't send me a transfer agreement or anything with my signature on it. At this point I'm not sure I signed anything at all. I thought I did, but if I had, it would be in my paperwork. I've searched through every last page and found nothing. Unless it was something I signed where I was not given a copy. If that's the case, then why didn't vivint send me a copy of their copy? I suspect the answer to that is that they lost it. Apparently it took them two years to even figure out that the previous owners were gone. So clearly they never transferred the account, the bills they were generating were still in their name.

                      Again my lawyer was really useless at this point. He called them while I was there and got a buyout price of like $30,000+, then wanted to know how to get OUT of the contract, not buy it out, and they told him there is no way out of these contracts (WHO THE **** WOULD SIGN ONE OF THESE??? IT'S NOT EVEN A GOOD DEAL). Again he's going to look in to it and contact some people, there's gotta be a way. A few days later, he tells me he's basically given up. I'm not convinced he's done anything on the matter except calls he's made while I was there.

                      So at this point, this is early spring 2017 I believe, i tell him that I've got nothing to lose at this point, why don't I just wait for them to call me back again (they had been calling me regularly telling me they need to speak to me), and tell them basically "I never signed the contract, I've never paid them a dime, I don't intend to, come get the panels off my house" and hope that they don't have a transfer agreement.

                      I also had a plan B, which was to pay the $500 fee to have them "temporarily" removed and stored, then once they were off the house, never take their calls again. I was most likely not going to go with this plan, but it's possibly an option.

                      So what happened the next time they called was... oh right, they suddenly stopped calling me. No calls, no emails, no letters in the mail, nothing. It's been 6 months or so, not a word, not a peep. The panels are still switched off, it's like they're not even there. This is very strange.

                      [b]So, what should my next move be?[/b]

                      On the one hand, I want to contact them to hopefully get the ball rolling, as I would love to have these panels off my house before Winter, as the snow avalanches cause more and more damage to the house every year. If I did contact them, I could ask if they have a transfer agreement or anything in my name, and see what their response it; Or I could "bluff" and just say 'come get em' and hope they have no agreement.
                      OR, I could NOT contact them and wait for them to contact me. The idea being that the more time goes by, the more likely it is that one way or another, they will have lost any paperwork they might have.

                      It seems like these are about my only options at this point. Other than just keeping the panels, which I don't want to do because I'll be increasing my monthly electric bill by 300% or so, AND if I ever want to sell the house, no one's going to want this insane, expensive liability stuck to the roof.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        You need a better lawyer!
                        Without a signed transfer agreement, would the previous owners be responsible for the accrued costs? There should be mention in the contract what happens in the case of a default...... I'd guess the panels would be removed and returned to vivint.

                        I'd play hardball.... insist there was no transfer. If they want their panels back they have to come and get them ...... and repair damage to your roof.
                        It's up to them to prove there was a transfer agreement signed.


                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by l008com View Post
                          So here's a bit of an update on things. The layer was always very gung-ho when i'd visit him in his office. But then when I'd email him a few days later to see what progress he'd made, he'd always be like "you may be out of luck". I told him why don't I first contact vivint myself and have them "correct" the estimated bill amounts from when I turned the system off. Then once they correct that, he can call them and try to work out some kind of termination deal.

                          Welp, vivint said the contracts says i'm responsible for paying for estimated amounts of electricity the solar panels made, even if the system is shut off. They tell me this a year and a half after I shut the system off. Remember this isn't my contract, the dumb ass previous home owners signed this contract.

                          Speaking of which, vivint has sent me the contract the original home owners signed, and a copy of a generic, blank transfer agreement. They didn't send me a transfer agreement or anything with my signature on it. At this point I'm not sure I signed anything at all. I thought I did, but if I had, it would be in my paperwork. I've searched through every last page and found nothing. Unless it was something I signed where I was not given a copy. If that's the case, then why didn't vivint send me a copy of their copy? I suspect the answer to that is that they lost it. Apparently it took them two years to even figure out that the previous owners were gone. So clearly they never transferred the account, the bills they were generating were still in their name.

                          Again my lawyer was really useless at this point. He called them while I was there and got a buyout price of like $30,000+, then wanted to know how to get OUT of the contract, not buy it out, and they told him there is no way out of these contracts (WHO THE **** WOULD SIGN ONE OF THESE??? IT'S NOT EVEN A GOOD DEAL). Again he's going to look in to it and contact some people, there's gotta be a way. A few days later, he tells me he's basically given up. I'm not convinced he's done anything on the matter except calls he's made while I was there.

                          So at this point, this is early spring 2017 I believe, i tell him that I've got nothing to lose at this point, why don't I just wait for them to call me back again (they had been calling me regularly telling me they need to speak to me), and tell them basically "I never signed the contract, I've never paid them a dime, I don't intend to, come get the panels off my house" and hope that they don't have a transfer agreement.

                          I also had a plan B, which was to pay the $500 fee to have them "temporarily" removed and stored, then once they were off the house, never take their calls again. I was most likely not going to go with this plan, but it's possibly an option.

                          So what happened the next time they called was... oh right, they suddenly stopped calling me. No calls, no emails, no letters in the mail, nothing. It's been 6 months or so, not a word, not a peep. The panels are still switched off, it's like they're not even there. This is very strange.

                          [b]So, what should my next move be?[/b]

                          On the one hand, I want to contact them to hopefully get the ball rolling, as I would love to have these panels off my house before Winter, as the snow avalanches cause more and more damage to the house every year. If I did contact them, I could ask if they have a transfer agreement or anything in my name, and see what their response it; Or I could "bluff" and just say 'come get em' and hope they have no agreement.
                          OR, I could NOT contact them and wait for them to contact me. The idea being that the more time goes by, the more likely it is that one way or another, they will have lost any paperwork they might have.

                          It seems like these are about my only options at this point. Other than just keeping the panels, which I don't want to do because I'll be increasing my monthly electric bill by 300% or so, AND if I ever want to sell the house, no one's going to want this insane, expensive liability stuck to the roof.
                          Not all ambulance chasers are equally competent. I'd cautiously consider getting a new one. On the other hand, leases/PPA's can be pretty tight and written heavily in favor of the lessor.

                          I'm really sorry you got boned, honest. But given that vendor, I'm not at all surprised. Another cautionary tail to avoid leases and PPA's, solar bottom feeders and to always read what you're signing.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Walker View Post
                            You need a better lawyer!
                            Without a signed transfer agreement, would the previous owners be responsible for the accrued costs? There should be mention in the contract what happens in the case of a default...... I'd guess the panels would be removed and returned to vivint.
                            I agree but lawyers cost money so for now, I'm better off trying to deal with this myself. The agreement lists many options they may take on customer default, including just "removing the system from your home" but also including "forcing the customer to make a buy-out payment". One would assume, if they are getting the panels back, they wouldn't try to get that buyout payment. But if they have no agreement with me and I don't take their calls (after the panels are removed) and they want money, I do think they would go after the previous owners. I have heard from one neighbor who ran into the previous owner that I was trying to "screw her over" with the solar company, so they have definitely already been in touch with her on some level.

                            Originally posted by Walker View Post
                            I'd play hardball.... insist there was no transfer. If they want their panels back they have to come and get them ...... and repair damage to your roof.
                            It's up to them to prove there was a transfer agreement signed.
                            Well right, but what's the best way to go about this, specifically? Message them and ask for one? Wait for them to make a move, then ask for one? Don't ask for one and simply say "i am not your customer, come remove these"?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by J.P.M. View Post
                              always read what you're signing.
                              I read it but it's not written in a language normal people can understand. The Lawyer read it but without experience dealing with a solar company, it would have sounded fine. I'm having a hard time thinking of any scenario where you're buying a house with solar panels and there is ANYONE involved at all, that has enough experience to tell you that these solar panels are a bad deal, and the contract is a borderline scam, and that I'm going to be using WAY less electricity than the previous owner so there will be not only no savings, but significantly increased expense. Other than the general i consensus that "20 year solar leases are bad, don't buy a house with them", but that wasn't really a thing in 2014. People all over this city were getting panels from vivint back then. They're all going to be so screwed unless Mass passes a law saying a customer can cancel one of these contracts at any time.

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