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SolarCity needs a lesson in customer service

on April 20, 2015

Anyone who has ever been frustrated by a customer service department can sympathize with clients of SolarCity. The company is the solar energy brain-child of billionaire Elon Musk, and recipient of roughly $500 million in taxpayers’ money.

Long phone calls, hidden fees and a general lack of efficiency have been the story with a large number of customers who entered into SolarCity’s popular solar panel ease option.

According to Watchdog.org, SolarCity has generated a large number of cases involving poor installation, says Gerald Chapman, building inspector manager of San Mateo County, California.

Among the disgruntled customers is Jeffery Leeds. The Northern California resident signed a 20-year lease on solar panels and shelled out an up-front fee of $600 after SolarCity claimed his utility bills would drop by an average of $168 a month.

After installation of the SolarCity panels, Leeds’ electric bills increased by nearly $150 a month, according to Watchdog.org. Worse, he was still forced to pay the second largest solar energy provider in the country almost $44,000 in lease payments over the next 20 years, “with no way out.”

After Leeds’ story hit the media, SolarCity offered a statement saying “Mr. Leeds’ system did produce less than we guaranteed last year so he will be compensated for that under his performance guarantee.”

While the Better Business Bureau has awarded SolarCity an “A+” rating, online feedback has been overwhelmingly critical of the company that received more than $11 million in stimulus funds. Complaints lodged range from poor installation to hidden fees.

 According to media reports, SolarCity often puts customers on the backburner while the customers attempt for months on end to solve the problems the company has created.

One customer, who asked to remain anonymous, complained that SolarCity employees blatantly ignored city inspectors. After city officials clearly laid out what was needed for the installation, the breakers and wiring were still installed incorrectly. Watchdog.org reported that “The inspector came back out and looked at it and said, ‘You guys put the wrong breakers on — I told you guys what I needed for the code.’”

Troubles with SolarCity, however, don’t end with the installation. Customers, including Leeds, have found liens placed on their homes after entering into contracts with the company, even though customers are up-to-date on their payments.

According to the Watchdog.org report, SolarCity say the lien is not technically a lien, but a ‘fixture filing’ that stakes the company’s claim to the panels. Regardless of what SolarCity wants to call it, it can harm customers’ finances, as Jeff Leeds discovered.

After signing the lease, Leeds received notice from his bank that SolarCity placed a lien on his home. “I was totally surprised by this and very pissed off,” Leeds said. “When I talked to the bank they told me it was a lien. I had to pay the bank a $48 fee for removal. They held me up from closing my loan to buy a vacation home so I had to borrow from another account. It cost me time in calls to both Wells Fargo and to SolarCity.”

SolarCity may rake in millions in solar-subsidies and taxpayer-funded grants from Americans, but the company shows little appreciation for the little guy, at least judging from how its customers are treated.


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