Scam targets consumers seeking solar roofs

A new home-improvement scam targets consumers who want to lower their energy bills with rooftop solar panels or windmills. Solar energy can reduce a home or building owner's electric bill, but the upfront investment is the equivalent of paying for 30 to 40 years of electricity in advance. Additionally, factors such as living where cloudy weather is common or living in the shadow of tall trees, terrain or nearby tall buildings can affect payback. Consumers unfamiliar with these factors are targets for scam artists.

Some scams persuade consumers to pay a large deposit to a contractor who then leaves town or never delivers the system or savings; consumers have lost several thousand dollars to this scam. According to the latest survey of consumer-protection agencies by the Consumer Federation of America and North American Consumer Protection Investigators, home-improvement companies are the third most complained about type of business.

Consumers can protect themselves by working only with licensed contractors specializing in solar rooftop installation; conducting an energy audit and obtaining bids from at least three companies; and checking Better Business Bureau ratings and references. Consumers should never pay the full price upfront or pay a deposit of more than $1,000 or 10 percent of the project price, whichever is less.