Buyer beware: Solar power may be missing key ingredient

Buyer beware: Solar power may be missing key ingredientFILE – In this April 29, 2013, file photo, Jon Kirkpatrick carries a solar panel up to Bevan Walker for an installation for SunCommon in Montpelier, Vt. The Vermont attorney general?s office issued a warning letter to solar industry players in December 2015 saying some could face penalties for deceptive advertising if they are not clear when consumers are buying electrons but not environmental benefits. SunCommon, Vermont?s largest seller of community solar, is taking renewable energy credits tied to community solar projects and selling those credits to utilities in Massachusetts and Connecticut so they can meet state renewable energy quotas. It?s commonplace and legal for companies and governments to swap energy credits. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Want to cut reliance on your fossil-fuel-burning utility, but don’t have space for solar panels? Easy, the sales pitch goes, buy a share in the new “community solar array” being built on the outskirts of town.

But experts and regulators say there’s a catch. Some of the biggest marketers of such deals are stripping the “green” energy credits out of them and selling them elsewhere. That leaves ratepayers with merely a small discount on the same electricity they were using before.

The Vermont attorney general’s office recently issued a warning letter to solar industry players saying some could face penalties for deceptive advertising if they are not clear when consumers are buying electrons but not environmental benefits.

The Illinois Commerce Commission is also reviewing possible rules.

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