Contact Your Cooperative Before Making the Call on Solar


Steve Freese, WECA president and CEO

I stopped at a Kwik Trip recently to fill up, and on their monitor popped up the “word of the day”—due diligence. I was thinking about the Public Service Commission’s recent action on third-party solar ownership at the time. This moment reinforced the importance of due diligence when considering a contract with a solar provider. The Cambridge dictionary defines due diligence as “the action that is considered reasonable for people to take in order to keep themselves or others and their property safe” or “research and analysis of a company or organization done in preparation for a business transaction.” However you pursue due diligence in your daily life, it is crucial to practice it if you are a prospective buyer of solar power for your home or business.

Unfortunately, the importance of due diligence continues to be showcased in the news, with Wisconsin Public Radio reporting in February on dozens of Sun Badger Solar customers in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota being left hung out to dry on solar installations that were poorly installed or never happened at all, leaving many customers worried about their investments. In addition, Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) reports at least 50 complaints have been filed against Sun Badger Solar.

A similar situation happened last December when Cedar Rapids station KCRG-TV9 reported on the Iowa Attorney General’s Office investigating around 110 complaints against Moxie Solar after it abruptly closed its doors, leaving customers with unfulfilled contracts and substantial financial losses. Even cooperative consumer-members in Wisconsin got financially burned when Moxie defaulted on contracts.

While there is an accelerating number of examples where unscrupulous and disreputable solar business entities are out to make a quick buck with very aggressive marketing tactics, there are also many reputable companies with established, ethical business practices. This is where doing your due diligence by contacting your local electric cooperative before you sign any solar contract may benefit you. While your cooperative may not know all the solar companies operating in Wisconsin, practicing due diligence by contacting them first could save you time and money.

This might be best illustrated by an incident a cooperative manager recently told me about. A member contracted for a ground-mounted solar array and thought they were dealing with a reputable and professional company. After the array was installed, the cooperative’s master electrician did a visual inspection and found 11 National Electric Code (NEC) violations and multiple other issues with the general installation of the array and associated equipment. The company finally corrected all the NEC violations after two additional visits, but one of the violations would have likely resulted in a damaged inverter. Nevertheless, the member was very appreciative of the work that the cooperative did on his behalf.

In recent months we’ve used this column to warn you about third-party ownership and “community solar” programs that are being pushed both at the Public Service Commission and in the legislature. Our concern stems from the lack of thought and desire to have the proper and necessary consumer protections in place to protect our consumer members—you. All electric cooperatives have distributed energy programs in place to connect solar systems to the grid. These programs help protect your home and your investment. You deserve that same kind of assurance when you sign a long-term contract with a solar installer.

When it comes to solar planning and interconnecting, your local electric cooperative can be a responsible partner in helping to look out for your interest because you are a member and owner of the cooperative. Please consider discussing your installation plans with your electric co-op well before any work commences to understand what will be required before your solar array can be interconnected to its electric system. Solar could very well be the right thing for your home or business, but a little bit of due diligence on your part in the planning process and asking the right questions upfront could help make it a safer investment for many years to come. For more info, search “DATCP, solar buying tips” online.