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Thinking solar power? Make sure you do your homework

Solar panels can save money on your electric bill, but there are pros and cons you should know about first.
Posted at 7:54 AM, Mar 22, 2024

Roughly 8% of US homes now have solar panels, according to Pew, and even more homeowners are considering the switch.

But before you sign a contract, know the pros and cons because some buyers have to pay for years and years and never see the promised savings.

Angela Thompson was excited when her elderly brother signed on to purchase rooftop solar panels after a salesman promised he would save money on his electric bill.

But when she looked at the contract her brother signed, her jaw dropped.

"He doesn't have enough income to cover it," he said,

Thompson says the salesperson got her brother to agree to $129 a month for nearly two and a half decades, paying $37,000, including $15,000 in interest.

"They want him to pay for 25 years," she said.

But her brother is 83 years old, meaning he is supposed to pay until he is 108 years old.

Texas led the US in new solar power installation in 2023
Two men installing solar panels on top of a house

Texas led the US in new solar power installation in 2023

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CNET: Be sure to do your homework

Andrew Blok is an editor at CNET. Unfortunately, he has seen this before.

He says the top selling points for solar include savings, environmental benefits and boosted reliability. But Blok says it’s a bad idea to rush your decision.

That's where it's easy to sign a bad contract that can wipe out your savings.

"Talk to multiple installers," he said. "Don't go with your first quote."

Next, he says, do your research.

That means reading reviews online and even asking your neighbors.

“Their first-hand experience is super valuable," he said.

He said if you're paying cash, "Don't pay all of it until your system is installed and operating.”

Finally, he says to check for savings from the government.

“You can get a 30% tax credit on the investment,” he said.

Check homeowner's guide

Garrett Nilsen is the deputy director of the Solar Energy Technologies office at the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department of Energy's website features the Homeowner's Guide to Going Solar.

“Read through the whole thing and understand the process," Nilsen said.

If solar feels like a good fit, he says this is the perfect time to flip the switch.

But as Thompson and her brother learned, a bad loan can lock you in for years.

That's why you must ask many questions before signing a solar contract.

“It's not going to save him any money at all," she said.