With solar energy grabbing more headlines, many Utah consumers are being bombarded with sales offers for home and business use — and that has state officials worried.
“When (popularity rises), unscrupulous players enter the market and customers can be confused about what they’re buying or pressured into sales,” Chris Parker, director of the Utah Division of Public Utilities, said.
To combat those concerns, the division, along with the Office of Consumer Services, Friday announced the creation of a new state website for people using or considering solar energy resources. The online site, rooftopsolar.utah.gov, was developed to provide background information to ensure they are aware of applicable rates and rules to avoid pitfalls, Parker said.
“Solar energy is becoming a popular source for energy among businesses and homeowners in Utah,” Parker said. But with popularity comes the risk of fraud, so the divisions created an online resource to help educate and protect the public when seeking out solar energy, he added.
“What we hope to do with this is to create an unbiased place where a customer can go to find out what questions they need to be asking and understand the relationship between them, the utility company and these solar companies,” Parker said.
The website includes an extensive checklist of what questions consumers should ask and review with any prospective contractor or company, he noted. The site also contains information about Rocky Mountain Power’s tariffs governing the use of rooftop solar resources, including the different rates that might apply to different customers, he said.
“The idea is to give (consumers) a landing place for links to resources, as well as identify for them what they can expect from their utility once they’ve put one of these systems on their house,” Parker said.
Additionally, the website displays three categories of customers to provide Utah users with a roadmap for exploring solar energy: net-metered customer; transition customer; and post-transition customer. Each category includes a drop-down menu titled “What does this mean?” with background utility and government information.
Parker said consumers need to be aware of the advantages and potential disadvantages of rooftop solar installation to determine if it is right for their individual circumstance. The website will give them access to information and resources that will help them make prudent decisions, he said.
“We’re trying to get information out so that folks can think about what they ought to be thinking about when considering one of these systems, and get it from a source that isn’t trying to dissuade them or get them to buy something,” he said.
“We hope that consumers will carefully evaluate costs and benefits of solar before signing up,” said Michele Beck, director of the Utah Office of Consumer Services. “Our goal is to provide user-friendly information so the public has all the facts before they sign a contract.”
The Utah Department of Commerce is constantly looking for ways to provide more information for consumers online, said Francine Giani, executive director of the department.
“Our hope is that rooftopsolar.utah.gov will become a valuable tool for consumers exploring this energy source,” she said.