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Steering Clear of Deceptive Sales Tactics: Navigating the Solar Panel Market in Portland, Oregon

So you're neck deep in the solar project process and getting bids from a multitude of contractors.

Each of them has their own pitch, right? Some come at you with the green/environmental approach while others sell their projects as financially sound investments. And then in between all of these pitches, you'll hear a variety of statements specifically designed to get you to push forward NOW (with them).

What's my advice here? Well folks - read on so we can take a look at the red flag warnings from your solar sales people:

I pulled the following list from an article I read recently from CNet (with the same catchy title that I used - if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? - just give credit where credit is due)

Here's a quick list of red flags and claims from Solar United Neighbors and the Department of Energy that should prompt you to do some research.

· "The federal solar tax credit is going away soon." This used to be true prior to the Inflation Reduction Act becoming law. In that legislation, the federal government increases the tax credit (for this year) and keeps it at that level for the next 10 years. The new tax credit is 30% of money spent on the project (after any upfront incentives have been deducted). There's also provisions for 501c3 organizations that didn't exist prior to this legislation. Summary here: If ANY sales person says these words to you - DON'T TAKE THE BAIT. This is a high-pressure closing statement.

· "There's a special program ending soon." This, my friends, CAN BE TRUE. It's worth noting that I've seen at least a dozen different programs come into and go out of existence since we started the company in 2008. From grant programs from the USDA, local grant programs for commercial projects funded by the state or the electric company themselve, state tax credits (that no longer exist), and utility funded up-front cash discounts. Government programs do end. Some local incentives are designed to help "jump-start" an industry, and once the industry is on its feet, those programs also end. Make sure you get the specifics and understand whatever program is being discussed.

· "You only have one choice of equipment." This is generally FALSE. I will offer that we at DPI Solar do our diligence on the brands we offer to our customers, but by no means are our product offerings indicative of the full breadth of products available. There are many high quality brands out there for your equipment. If a sales person suggests that there is only one product available, my advice would be to question them as to why? DPI Solar reviews any products we put into our quoting workbooks. Our review process is not just about price or availability. In fact, yours truly takes a deeper look at the companies behind the products. I log into my stock trading platform and look at what the current news is on these companies: Are they solvent? Did they just request or seek an angel investment because they don't have enough of their own money to perform R&D without seeking outside funding? Have they ever restructured their debt to avoid bankruptcy? Once we get a few of what I consider to be BASIC fundamentals out of the way, I then take the remaining companies (and sadly - this process eliminates a LOT of potential candidates) and look at their tech vs price point. If I like what I see, I'll insert the products into our quoting workbooks to offer to our customers. My opinion is this: what good is the best tech if the company behind it is "running in the red" and about to declare bankruptcy or sell? If they aren't around to honor their warranty then I don't want to sell their products to our customers. Plain and Simple

· "Your utility is going to raise electricity prices XX% each year." Again - this statement is mostly TRUE. The real question is whether or not the quoted increases are in line with reality. After 15 years in this business, DPI Solar has settled on a conservative rate increase per year of 4% built into our bidding workbook. The reality of our local utilities is generally a few percentage points higher (on average) per year. Unfortunately, one of the largest utilities we deal with hit our customers with a 14.7% rate increase this year with another 7% slated for next year. Our other largest utility hit their customers with a 7.8% rate increase this year with the same 7% slated for next year as well. The bottom line here is this: All utilities in our state (Oregon) are required to submit an application to the Public Utility Commission requesting their proposed rate increases. These requests are a matter of public record. If you're getting that "not so fresh feeling" about your shiny new solar sales person and think they might be over-stating the rate increases, then either check around with other companies first (before signing) or check the public records available from your state utility board (in Oregon, that board is the "Public Utility Commission"). One way or the other, you'll find the truth and know if the over-estimate is justified or just another sleazy tactic to push you forward sooner on your project.

· "You can save up to 100% on your electricity bill." This statement is VERY subjective. I try to compare our customer's needs to the individuality of a fingerprint - no single one is identical. We have had identical homes right next to each other install solar panels on their homes. One customer installs 15 solar panels while the other installs 30. What's the difference? SO MUCH! So many things can determine how much solar your property might need (or how much solar your budget can buy). DPI Solar always tries to show our customers a system that is capable of delivering 100% of their purchased electricity in year one (we actually tend to oversize the systems up to 5% to allow for solar panel degradation that will leave you with a system showing minimal age-related losses many years into the future). But...there's always a catch: sometimes there's not enough "roof real-estate" to fit enough solar panels to offset 100% of your bill. Sometimes the cost to offset 100% is not something the budget will allow for. Sometimes there's enough room and enough budget, but Mother Nature decided to grow a tall tree right in the solar path of the sun (and your solar panels). IN GENERAL - DPI Solar attempts to provide designs and projects that will eliminate as much of your electric bill as we can without compromising your incentives (which can be based on "minimum site efficiency") or our integrity. We don't want to put something on your property that doesn't deliver as promised. If you look at multiple installers during your buying process, a clearer picture is likely to emerge and you'll be able to "spot the fake" bidders due to large discrepancies in size of system or offset quoted. Your bidders' designs should somewhat mimic each other and the quoted offsets should also line up. If one contractor is coming in with a low bid and high offset, take a closer look - because in general, we find that our designs are not too different from other high-integrity contractors.

· "Put solar on your roof for free!" This statement is BY FAR FALSE! And honestly, there is no other claim on this list that frustrates me more than this one statement. Before you believe this hype, I just want you to ask yourself this one question: were you EVER allowed to go to a car dealership and drive a new car off the lot for free - and NOT go to jail? Me neither. So, why the car dealership analogy? Because in general, the amount of money you're likely to spend on a solar project is comparable to buying a new car (with price ranges for residential ranging from $12k all the way to $100k). So why would some sleazy advertising company make this statement? Did it get you to look? Probably. They call it "click-bait" for a reason. You clicked. And if you started reading the fine print, you likely noticed something there that said "upon approved credit" - and there's the catch! If we go back to the car lot analogy, you'll start to see why this is such a relevant analogy: because there ARE ways you can drive off the lot with a new car (or put solar on your property) without writing a check THAT DAY (hint: it's called FINANCING YOUR PURCHASE). The takeaway here is very important: there are NO government or local programs that are going to fully subsidize any solar projects. Even if you're part of a low-to-middle income group, the best you can hope for is a deeper discount/larger incentives (than what is given to non-income restricted buyers). But even with deeper discounts/larger incentives, you'll still end up either paying the difference in cash or financing the balance. Can you get solar on your home with "no money down and no money immediately out of pocket"? Yes. ON APPROVED CREDIT! Folks - the old adage is as true here as it is everywhere else: There's no such thing as a "free lunch" - there's ALWAYS a catch. And that's why I hate seeing this advertising ploy more than anything else - because it triggers people to call with hope in their heart - and we get to break their spirit with cold, hard truth.

· "You can say your home is powered by green energy." This one (for our customers) is true - but not for ALL customers. This statement can be considered false if you signed a lease to acquire your solar panels or if you decided to install solar on your commercial property but did so to sell it to the electric company (instead of using it onsite). The basis for this statement centers around these imaginary widgets called "renewable energy certificates" or "REC's". A renewable energy certificate is something that the EPA recognizes as a specific "volume of power generated with a renewable energy source" (like solar panels). When your solar panel system generates one kilowatt-hour of energy, the EPA would say that your system also created one REC. But this is where things get sticky: a REC is "born" when the system generates one kilowatt hour of power, but the REC is "retired" once that kilowatt-hour of power is consumed. If you are using net metering (most of us are), then your REC's are born and expired mostly at the same moment (kilowatt-hour by kilowatt-hour) onsite. Why? Because you either received a full-value credit on your electric bill for excess power generation OR you actually used the solar power inside the property as it was produced (thus stopping the electric meter from "spinning"). So why on earth do these things exist in the first place if most solar owners are using the power onsite (instead of exporting it to the electric grid for resale)? Well, I like to think of these things like radio tags you sometimes see on wildlife that wildlife biologists attach to things like bears, wolves, and sharks. Having the radio tag allows the biologist to track the animal's position. In much the same way, when a REC is created or "born", having this volume of power "tagged" and/or trackable allows the owner to "track" where it goes and show that it was delivered to a specific site and "retired" once delivered. So, should you worry about whether or not you need to track your REC's? Nope. To the majority of our clientele, they are using their solar power onsite, and there is no reason to track that power as it's evident in a lower electric bill (not to mention that there is sophisticated software and hardware requirements for folks who DO track their REC's). The take-away from this statement is this: if you own the system (either by outright purchase or financing) you can claim the prize: your property is powered by green energy! But - if you leased your system from one of those national brands who talked you into a lease, then THEY own the power and the manufacturing equipment and you got a lower bill, but oddly - by the rules of the EPA, you actually can't claim your property is "powered by green energy". The same is true for those commercial operators who install solar panels to generate power to sell to the wholesale market (instead of using it themselves).

The above statements are just a few of the most common examples of sales-y statements that you'll hear on your path to install a solar project. Knowing the truth behind the statements will make you a better consumer of this product and will definitely set up proper expectations. DPI Solar might offer up a few of these savory statements for your consumption, but we ALWAYS make sure we explain their meaning and provide some clarity and transparency on these statements. In the end, we want you to have a great experience while also giving you a solid foundation to build your knowledge base from. Want to hear some better statements (like "break-even year" or "return on investment")? Give us a call or send up a smoke signal - we'll find ya! Until then - thanks for reading and talk soon, Josh Kopczynski

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