Solar panels are a smart, green move, no matter who provides them, right?
Not exactly. Fueled by tax credits and breakthroughs in financing, a bevy of companies are racing to provide self-sustaining solar power to homes across the 50 states. At first glance, they all purport to provide the same thing, for approximately the same cost. But take a closer look at how they deliver these services and it becomes clear that some solar installers don't quite measure up.
Take NRG Home Solar, for instance. At four years-old, NRG Home Solar is a Fortune 200 company focused on providing affordable solar-generated electricity to homeowners, just like any other solar installer out there. Their 20-year lease option (which is their only option) is pretty much a carbon copy of lease options at other solar installers. To the layperson, then, NRG Home Solar seems like just another generic, but probably reliable, solar provider.
But other online reviews of NRG Home Solar show different picture, far from being in the same league as Sungevity, SolarCity, or Sunrun. Instead of setting homeowners up with a convenient, cheap source of sustainable energy, NRG Home Solar has some serious baggage that can make this process a nightmare for customers. In customer complaints across the Internet, these seven lurking issues show up again and again in relation to NRG:
Committing to installing a solar panel array on your roof is no small thing. After all, we're talking about a major, potentially risky construction project on your property and an agreement that you're locking yourself into for the next 20 years. In terms of commitment, a solar install is right up there with purchasing a car or a house. So it's puzzling when a company tries to sell such a high-commitment product as if it were a box of Girl Scout cookies. Apparently ignorant to this problem, NRG has been described, in a number of online reviews, as having overzealous salespeople and schedulers.
Consider one anonymous review posted right here on bestcompany.com by a disgruntled NRG customer. While browsing on HomeAdvisor.com, the customer checked a box indicating that he or she was interested in learning more about solar power. Unfortunately, this unleashed a barrage of emails and phone calls from NRG. When the customer responded that he or she was interested but needed to think it over, communications from NRG took on a less-than-friendly tone:
"This lady with a charming Aussie accent kept leaving me messages saying, 'Maybe you're not really interested. Should I cancel your account?' and implied I was wasting her time. Keep in mind I have perfect credit, own my own home, get multiple offers daily, they want something like a 20-year commitment, and when I as a customer, who has other things in my life, says, 'I'll get to you when I get to you,' it isn't good enough."
Getting pressured by NRG to make such a huge decision on a moment's notice is bad enough. But then some NRG salespeople take it a step farther.
More than a few online reviews tell of NRG salespeople, apparently in their rush to close sales, dishing out some tall tales. One customer named Maria told bestcompany.com of her experience with a NRG salesman:
"The sales rep made false promises and misleading informations, made us believe that we do not have to pay our electric bill anymore, and just need to pay the monthly lease instead."
Just for the record, in many cases, a solar system on your roof might be able to cover your household's energy needs, but it really depends on how much power your system can put out and how much your household uses. If your system's output is low or if your power usage goes up, you might be paying for your solar system and paying an additional bill to your utility company. For this reason, you should beware of any solar salesperson who makes broad promises about being able to cover 100 percent of your energy needs. Legitimate solar companies won't make those kinds of blanket guarantees.
Sadly, the confusion that often surrounds NRG's sales process doesn't end once a customer signs a contract. Out of all the complaints aired online about NRG Home Solar, none is more common than that of the botched installation. Forgotten installs. Ever-expanding price tags. Leaky roofs. They're all here and they're far more common than they should be.
On Yelp, Los Angeles resident Boyce L. provides one of the most dumbfounding examples of an NRG installation fail. Stalled by a city approval, the time finally came for the installation to begin on his house, but NRG's representative, Simon, had a curve ball:
"He shows up and says that because of the changes the city made, the patio cover will be $4,000 more. I started to wonder how they arrived at $4,000.00. And I pulled out my original paperwork to see how much of the total price there was already allocated to the patio cover, and guess what? It didn't say! All that was on there was a schedule for the payments, no breakdown between the cost of the solar panel system, as opposed to the patio. When I later asked him for the breakdown he said I had it already (no, I didn't), then finally after a few emails, they sent me something in writing. It had the additional $4,000 on it, but the cost of the other work (air ducts & tankless water heater) had almost doubled. Yet the Patio cover and Solar system still lumped together. It seemed to me they just wanted to collect more money from me and thought I wouldn't remember that I had already paid in full for the other items. So basically they have been holding over $11,000 of my money hostage since January and refuse to refund it to me."
NRG apparently has a problem with their installation process and certainly with being transparent up front with installation costs. They might even have a problem, as this customer surmised, with intentionally deceiving customers by tacking on extra fees. Just know that this isn't a common problem with other, more reputable solar companies.
Imagine finally making the decision to have a solar system installed on your roof and the company gets the work done. A brand-new set of solar panels now sit on your rooftop. But then, strangely, no one comes to turn your system on. You reach out the solar company, but no one returns your call. Then imagine this goes on for several months.
This is what happened to one NRG customer, who filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) over the incident. Their solar panels were installed in March 2015 and then communication with NRG just went dark. They waited until July before they finally decided to call and see what was holding things up-only to get no response from NRG (that is, until NRG saw the complaint on the BBB website).
Unfortunately, other NRG customers echo this same story. Another complaint filed with the BBB against NRG tells of a customer waiting for nearly a year from the time they signed their lease to get their panels turned on. Calls with NRG's customer service department proved fruitless. Promises of getting the panels turned on in the next few months turned out to be a lot of hot air.
When you decide to enter a long-term lease contract with a solar company, you're expecting that they will be there to respond to concern, fix the equipment when it has issues, etc. A prominent strain throughout NRG's online customer reviews, however, is that NRG is a bit incompetent when it comes to service.
This review left on our site by customer Anthony Salvo speaks volumes about this problem:
"Monitoring went down 5 months ago and after numerous emails, phone calls etc. No action. Looks like they don't even sell in CO anymore. Sold me a system and they have no one to service it in the area!"
And, apparently, this incompetence starts with the very first sales visit, according to customer Joseph Bonola:
"After a 'brief' 20 minute visit by an NRG salesman, who had absolutely NO information on their system. I was promised an engineering quote by the next business day. I NEVER received ANY quote or ANYTHING afterward....EVER, even to this very day, even after leaving repeated E-mails and voicemail messages, probably 10 total."
In fact, most of the examples in this post and in customer complaints around the Web feature this same undercurrent of poor communication and follow-up. Would-be customers never get that quote they were promised. Installations are never completed. Service calls aren't responded to. Obviously, this is not the kind of company you want to be shackled to for 20 years.
This reassuring message graces NRG Home Solar's website:
"NRG Home Solar has installed tens of thousands of solar systems for homeowners just like you across the United States. We handle all aspects of your residential solar installation."
Unfortunately, this statement is just a tad deceptive. While it's true that NRG "handles" the design, engineering, permitting and inspections, and other duties involved with installing a solar system, it isn't actually NRG employees building or installing the equipment or doing the other legwork. No, when you work with NRG Home Solar, you actually work with a host of subcontractors and this can make things very confusing.
Upon noticing that her utility bill had jumped up, NRG customer Tracy Abate discovered that her solar system had stopped producing electricity just two months after being installed. She checked on Enphase and found that her system was indeed down-a problem which should have been caught by NRG's monitoring activities. Tracy's search for answers tool her to NRG's customer service department, who then redirected to another company called CPS. NRG and CPS ended up placing the blame on each other for the monitoring failure. Confused, Tracy reached out to her solar billing company, Tregar Systems, only to jump through a bunch of new hoops before finding out that her system is indeed not producing electricity and they don't know what to do about it or who's to blame.
Tracy lamented on bestcompany.com, "No one at either of the companies that manages my solar can give me a straight answer or confirm if I have solar or when it will be fixed."
A lot happens in 20 years. People sell their homes, along with their solar systems. This can be just another headache when it comes to selling your home. But, as you can well imagine with a company which displays an uncanny knack for dropping balls, these situations can get really ugly with NRG Home Solar involved.
"Upon the sale of my home, the lease was successfully transferred to the new owner of the property," said one unhappy customer in a complaint filed with the BBB. "NRG then took an additional payment after the sale of the home. I contacted them and was told they would be returning the funds to my account by that Thursday, their words."
Unfortunately, what seemed like an open-and-shut case took a messy turn. Two and a half months passed with no word or refund from NRG. A call with one agent assured the customer that the money would soon be refunded, but then a call from another agent said the opposite and recommended that the customer try to get the money from the folks who bought the house.
Needless to say, NRG's customer service department was unprepared for such a situation. And this customer paid the price for their apparent lack of organization.
You have so many options when it comes to a solar installation, and so many of the companies in the industry are reliable, responsible, and well-organized. Sungevity and Sunrun, for example, run practically flawless operations that get top reviews from customers, and their pricing is right on par with NRG and other solar companies. With all of these facts in mind, we recommend that you check out your other solar options before you settle for NRG. It's practically guaranteed that you will find a better company to work with on your solar installation.
To see how the top solar companies stack up to one another, as rated by our team and real customers, visit our Solar Companies page today!