How to avoid rooftop solar scammers – tips from Solar Victoria as rebate kicks in

The body set up to oversee Victoria government’s residential solar rebate has warned consumers to be wary of “scammers and inaccurate marketing” by rooftop PV cowboys pushing dodgy products and trying to cash in on the scheme.
Solar Victoria, the Latrobe Valley-based agency tasked with rolling out Labor’s $1.2 billion Solar Homes program, said this week it was concerned about reports that “unscrupulous” people were emerging to take advantage of consumers.
As we reported here last week, the 50 per cent rebate – which opened for applications Friday – has drawn a huge response from consumers, attracting more than 12,000 registrations of interest and a “flood of inquiries” since it was announced just three weeks ago.
But it has caught the attention of scammers, too.
In particular, there have been reports of “cold calling,” including by companies masquerading as representatives of Solar Victoria, and the use of misleading and potentially fraudulent marketing techniques.
Jonathan Leake, the COO of Solar Victoria, told One Step that fewer than 20 such cases had officially been reported to the body, but that this was enough to raise the alarm. Particularly in light of the “huge level of interest” in the program, so far.
“Apart from ripping off people by selling dodgy products, they undermine the reputation of the good operators in the solar industry,” Leake said in emailed comments.
This has been one of various concerns for established and accredited solar installers who, at the mercy of changing government policy, are forced to ride the so-called solar-coaster of supply and demand.
As PV veteran Nigel Morris told One Step last month, such schemes – intended as a shot in the arm for industry and consumers – often have unintended negative consequences, including bringing sales to a temporary and sudden stop as customers weigh up, or wait for, the best deals.
“This is classic solar coaster,” Morris told the Solar Insiders Podcast.
What happens in cases like this, he explains, is that consumers rush in to solar, purely as a way to get their tax back, rather than as an informed investment decision based around lowering their energy bills.
“The government was going to give me something – I don’t really care why or how – and by god I’m owed it.
“Phones are ringing off the hook. People are ringing up saying ‘How do I get my tax back? How do I get my money? I don’t care about the solar panels. If you have to put solar panels on that’s fine, but tell me how I get that money.’
“So it’s causing a lot of angst … down in Victoria already, and almost a dead stop in solar sales.”
And while this is a problem the industry might have to bear out – particularly with elements of the solar scheme dependent on the Andrews government being re-elected – all parties are keen to weed out any activity that might cost customers and damage the reputation of rooftop solar.
As Leake notes, the Solar Homes program has been designed to minimise the opportunity for scammers by requiring customers to use installers registered with the Clean Energy Council and products approved by the CEC.
But he still has a few key pieces of advice for customers looking to take up the government’s offer and install solar – many of whom are new to solar PV and faced a multitude of new brands, equipment and terminology.
– Don’t go through cold-callers or door-knockers: “Neither Solar Victoria or the government will ever cold-call or visit anyone to promote the Solar Homes program or sell products,” Leake said.
– Query advertising claims: The Solar Home program will provide a 50 per cent rebate on the cost of an average 4kW solar PV system (currently $2225) for a system costing $4,450. If the system costs more than $4450, the rebate is still capped at $2225.
– Don’t provide bank details over the phone or at the door: Solar Victoria will never ask for personal details like banking information over the phone.
– Resist pressure tactics: Unscrupulous operators may try to pressure you into buying solar PV panels by claiming rebates are running out or offer a special deal that seems too good to be true.
– Solar PV installers must hold an unrestricted Class A Electrical Licence registered with Energy Safe Victoria, and be accredited by the Clean Energy Council (CEC) Solar Accreditation Scheme.
– Installers must demonstrate and adhere to safe working procedures, have a good safety record and comply with occupational health and safety and electrical safety laws.
– Installers need to provide a statement that they have had no prosecutions registered with WorkSafe Victoria in the past three years (or with any equivalent authority in another Australian jurisdiction).
And finally, if you believe you are being contacted by a scammer or have been contacted by someone engaging in fraudulent of dishonest activities relating to solar rebates immediately contact Solar Victoria on 1300 363 744, 8.00am–6.00pm Monday to Friday.
You can also learn more about buying a solar installation in the guides produced by Consumer Affairs Victoria, and the Clean Energy Council.

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