Savannah woman claims solar company wronged her
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s advice we have all likely heard before: don’t sign a contract without first reading the fine print.
Still, all it can take is missing one key detail, and you can lose a lot of money. That’s exactly what a Savannah woman said happened to her when she signed up for solar panels.
72-year-old Savannah resident Sarah Durham wrote WTOC a letter asking for help. Durham, a widow who said she recently battled cancer, wants to know if she can get rid of her solar panels after she said a salesman misled her. We went to see Durham and her solar panels for ourselves at her home off East Duffy Street.
“Nobody seems to care,” Durham said. “All they want is they money.”
Durham said her solar panel dilemma all started with a flyer.
“I found the flyer on my door, with the solar panels. It said the government would pay for it,” she said.
Durham showed us the agreement she made with Titan Solar Power, a company based out of Arizona. She said their salesman told her she qualified for government assistance for the panels.
She said the government paid for the $8,000 installation - not the panels themselves.
“A couple of weeks later, I get this letter saying, “you owe $30,000,’” she said. “He didn’t tell me I had to pay $30,000!”
Durham said she contacted Titan Solar right away, but they told her they couldn’t help and referred her to a collection agency. She said she signed up for the panels, thinking she could save some money. But, between the monthly payments for the solar panels and what’s left of her electric bill, she said she’s now paying more. And, she said it all happened right before she was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was just overwhelming,” Durham added.
We wanted to know if this is happening to other people. So, we contacted the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Tom Stephens, President of the BBB’s Northeast Florida office, said it’s a common complaint.
“My initial reaction was, I wish this was the first time I’ve heard a story like that. But, it’s not,” Stephens said.
Stephens said new solar companies typically draw the most complaints, and don’t stay in business for long.
“The solar industry has some really good people, and some people who are not so good. And, sometimes they exaggerate their claims,” Stephens explained. “And, it’s expensive, and there’s lots of legal contracts involved, and people don’t read them. So, it’s not surprising that something like this happens.”
Titan Solar has a 1.7/5 customer review rating on the BBB’s web site, with more than 600 complaints in the past three years. Stephens said, in that same time period, they received 6,389 total complaints against solar energy contractors nationwide.
The three most common complaints against the company on the BBB’s web site included:
- The solar panel system not working, or not being properly installed.
- Customers unable to reach the company for assistance.
- Customers feeling misled, or “duped.”
We even saw several people use the word “scam” to describe Titan Solar Power. Stephens said people like Durham have three options:
- Pay the bill.
- Don’t pay the bill, and face legal action.
- Declare bankruptcy.
Stephens said it is a difficult position for consumers.
“Of course you feel for them, because they’ve just saddled themselves with a debt that they’re going to have to pay and not really get any return out of it,” he said.
Durham called her decision to buy solar panels one of the biggest mistakes of her life.
“Oh he made it sound so wonderful, so easy, so nice!” She said. “You know? And, I fell for it.”
WTOC Investigates contacted Titan Solar several times over the past two months. The company has not yet responded to our calls, emails or online forms submitted on their web site.
The Better Business Bureau has some advice for anyone thinking about buying solar panels:
- Get more than one estimate, and be skeptical of salespeople who come to your door with an offer.
- Make sure you know exactly how much the government will cover for your panels before you agree to purchase them.
- Make sure your energy company offers “net metering.” Those that do will pay you for the extra power your panels generate.
Georgia Power does not offer net metering.
Titan Solar Power should not be confused with Titan Solar USA, a separate company based out of Tennessee. Titan Solar USA has also been the subject of media reports involving similar complaints.
Gray Television, WTOC-TV’s parent company, has also published at least four other investigative stories about another solar company, which most recently went by the name of Pink Energy. WSMV-TV in Nashville reports the company, which formerly went by the name Power Home Solar, has since shut down.
Gray sister station KY3-TV in Springfield, MO, reports the company is bankrupt. The complaints prompted Missouri’s Attorney General to sue the company following an investigation by sister station KMOV in St. Louis.
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