11/02/17

  11:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 947 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy, CALSEIA

Solar Policy Progress!

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento

CALSEIA Staff and Members lobbying in Sacramento, August 2017.

We wrote the other day that securing sustainable solar policy is not a spectator sport, that it requires all of us to roll up our sleeves and do the work needed.  Leading that charge here in California are our friends over at CALSEIA, and I think it is helpful to motivate others to join in when they can see positive results. 

After all, winning begets winning (well, ok, maybe it didn’t in Game 7, but wait ’til next year!), and recently CALSEIA published a list of policy victories this year that I thought you would like to see. 

So check it out, so much winning!

AB 1070 - Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego)

Currently solar installers decide what information they will provide to potential clients, and it varies all over the lot, with many companies simply providing “generic” solar system quotes (i.e., this will be a 4.5 kW system for $4.50/Watt).  On the other end of the continuum are the quotes that we provide, calling out all of the equipment we propose to use, how much each line item will cost, a detailed analysis of your savings (using Energy Toolbase, the most sophisticated tool available) and payback over time.  We disclose all of our assumptions (such as energy costs increasing by 3%/year), and lay it all out in a clear and easy to follow format.

AB 1070 will drag some of those less forthcoming companies into the light.  From the legislative counsel’s digest:

This bill would require the [CSLB], in collaboration with the Public Utilities Commission, on or before July 1, 2018, to develop and make available on its Internet Web site a disclosure document that provides a consumer with accurate, clear, and concise information regarding the installation of a solar energy system, as specified. The bill would require this disclosure document to be provided by the solar energy systems company to the consumer prior to completion of a sale, financing, or lease of a solar energy system, as defined, and that it, and the contract, be written in the same language as was principally used in the sales presentation and marketing material. The bill would also require, for solar energy systems utilizing PACE financing, that the financing estimate and disclosure form satisfy these requirements with respect to the financing contract, as specified. The bill would also require the board to post the PACE Financing Estimate and Disclosure form on its Internet Web site.

The bill would require the Contractors’ State License Board to receive and review complaints and consumer questions, and complaints received from state agencies, regarding solar energy systems companies and solar contractors. The bill would, beginning on July 1, 2019, require the board annually to compile a report documenting complaints it received relating to solar contractors that it shall make available publicly on the board’s and the Public Utilities Commission’s Internet Web sites.

This is something we have been advocating for a long time.  Hopefully the CSLB and the CPUC will craft an easy-to-understand document that will help consumers make meaningful comparisons between competing quotes.  We are also pleased that this requires the contract language to track the language of the sales presentation and marketing materials - which in many cases they do not.  On top of that is the requirement for the CSLB and the CPUC to document complaints against solar contractors and to publicize those complaints on their website for all to see.

This bill won’t solve the problem of shady solar contractors, but it is a giant step in the right direction.

AB 1414 - Laura Friedman (D-Glendale)

It used to be that local jurisdictions could charge whatever they liked for solar permits, and getting those permits could take weeks, even for the smallest resi-install.  That was changed a few years ago and permit fees for small PV systems were capped at $500, although realistically, they are supposed to be limited to the actual cost of providing the service.  Some jurisdictions have done a lot to live up to the spirit of the requirement, and both the City of Los Angeles and LA County now have very reasonable permit fees.  Other jurisdictions, however, magically charge that $500 maximum no matter what.   Funny about that.

The cap on those fees was due to expire come January 1, 2018, but AB 1414 extends the cap for seven more years, and lowers the cap from $500 to $450, and extends the cap for both ground-mounted systems as well as solar thermal systems.  Big win.

Other Wins

Some other victories include:

  • AB 634 - Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) - prohibits HOAs from establishing a general policy that forbids the installation or use of a rooftop solar energy system for household purposes on the roof of the building in which the owner resides, or a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use.
  • AB 1284 - Matthew Dababneh (D-Calabasas) - Requires PACE lenders to make a “reasonable good faith effort” to ensure borrowers have the ability to repay their loans based on income, assets and current debt obligations.  Too often shady contractors prey on low-income and/or non-native English speakers to sign up for PACE loans that they really do not understand.  This law should help curb that practice, along with…
  • SB 242 - Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) - Mandates that PACE providers have calls with all homeowners before they take out the loan to ensure they understand the terms.

Collectively these measures strengthen the solar industry in California, while providing important consumer protections.  CALSEIA’s work - and that of its members - was key in achieving these results. 

But there’s lots left to do - CALSEIA’s legislative analysis list has many “Failed” entries on it where vital measures were either stalled or defeated outright.  So get involved - this is not a spectator sport!

10/31/17

  09:42:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 425 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Ranting

This is Not a Spectator Sport

Run on Sun is a proud member of CALSEIA - the California Solar Energy Industry Association - and its Executive Director, Bernadette Del Chiaro, is a powerful voice for the solar industry in the state.  Recently Bernadette penned a Call to Action that I wanted to share with my readers.  Titled “This is Not a Spectator Sport,” Bernadette starts with this crucial observation:

For the casual observer, energy politics in California seems easy, especially for solar and storage. What’s there not to like? The voters – left, right and in between - love it. Clean energy is a priority for top politicians. The facts and engineering are on our side. We are significant job creators and marketplace momentum is making clean energy inevitable.  Easy, right?

Wrong. Energy politics in California is anything but easy.

We understand this quite clearly, and we have been involved in numerous efforts this year - from attending a meeting at Assemblymember Holden’s Pasadena office, to participating in the lobbying day in Sacramento, to making numerous phone calls to express our concerns about various policy issues that have come up over this past year.

Sadly, some people seem to think that the solar industry is elitist, and that our clients are only the affluent, but that is far from the reality of solar.  As Bernadette noted:

The local solar and storage industry is anything but monochromatic. We are union and non-union. We are rural and urban. We are big and small. We are established and entrepreneurial. We are Republican and Democrat. There is strength in our diversity, but only if we are known to our local lawmakers….

We have far more power that we leave on the table simply because we are not fully engaged. Politics is not a spectator sport and whether you like it or not, your business is dependent on politics and policy. So, let’s stay calm, be smart, and let’s get on the field and engage.

Bernadette is right - securing positive solar policy is not a spectator sport, it requires all of us to engage.  If you are in the industry, you should belong to CALSEIA (or your local SEIA if outside of CA) - here’s the link where you can join

If you have solar at your home or business, you could join the California Solar CitiSuns to stay informed about action items that will help preserve the value of your investment.  Collectively there are hundreds of thousands of us here in California, and we can be a powerful voice, but we need to step up and get involved!  Thanks, Bernadette, for the timely reminder!

10/28/17

  11:56:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 836 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Ranting, Solar Policy

Solar Litigation Primer - Lessons Learned as an Expert Witness

I was recently asked to serve as an expert witness in a lawsuit against a super-shady solar installer.  After some soul-searching I agreed to take the job, in part as a way to help the solar industry police itself.  It was an interesting experience, and so I wanted to share some of my “lessons learned.”

Why Me?

Picture of me from my lawyer days

Jim Jenal,
trial lawyer!

In addition to having degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, I also earned a law degree, and practiced as a trial lawyer for 13 years in the litigation department of O’Melveny & Myers.  Much of that time I spent working with expert witnesses: running teams of consulting experts, overseeing the production of expert reports, taking and defending expert witness depositions, as well as presenting and cross examining experts at trial.  So I understand how the whole “expert witness” gig works.

Of course, more recently, I have been in charge of Run on Sun, and I have been NABCEP certified since 2010.  I have also written at length about problems in the solar industry and the need for us to do a better job at self-policing, or we will face the inevitable backlash.  Lawsuits, of course, are part of that backlash, and as the industry continues to grow, and shady operators continue to proliferate, the number of lawsuits will grow accordingly.

Key Lessons Learned

The case in which I participated, Mandt v. American Solar Solutions, et al., involved a homeowner who was defrauded into purchasing an over-priced, under-performing solar system from a “contractor” who didn’t have a license (he was renting a license number from a retired plumber), and lied repeatedly about what the system would do.  The sleazy contractor is now facing criminal charges in Riverside County.  Clearly if we are going to assist in getting bad actors out of the industry, this was a good place to start.

It was interesting to be involved in litigation as an expert witness, and here are some key takeaways from that experience.

Engage your Expert Early

I was retained relatively late in the process, and I think that was a mistake.  If you are a trial lawyer dealing with your first solar case, it is highly likely that you lack the technical knowledge to know what the process of developing a proper quote and then following through on the install should look like.  For example, lawyers generally lack expertise in analyzing utility bills, or interpreting the results of a shade analysis.  If you lack that type of knowledge - and why would you possess it? - it will be hard for you to depose the shady contractor thoroughly.

Engaging the expert early - and setting out clear guidelines as to how much time should be spent (more on that below) - will allow you to approach discovery in a more focused manner, and ensure that you aren’t leaving important factual issues undeveloped.

Is it Fraud or just Mismanaged Expectations?

Not all apparent cases of fraud are; sometimes what we are actually dealing with is a case of mismanaged expectations.  (That emphatically wasn’t the case here!)

Not all solar installers are good at explaining the fine points of what living with a solar system will be like, and some solar clients hear what they want to hear!  (See, e.g., “I’ve got solar; why is my bill so high?“)  It is really key to press your client on these points, as it will surely be the point of attack from the defense. 

Don't buy solar from this guy

Caution: Fraudster!

One tip - fraudsters provide minimal and misleading disclosures, tend not to provide the system owner with any documentation about their system (things like data sheets for installed products, as-built site and electrical drawings, copies of warranties, etc.) because that takes time and they want to be on to the next sucker, and are prone to promising “generic” solar systems (i.e, one’s where the actual components to be used are never part of the contract).

In contrast, a legit solar installer makes comprehensive disclosures about the components to be used and what they will cost, line-item by line-item.  They will also provide complete documentation when the project is complete.

Be Realistic About the Cost of Litigation

Litigation is expensive.  (Back in the day, I routinely worked on cases where the burn rate to the client exceeded $1,000,000/month!)  Even small cases can end up producing expenses that are painful to the client footing the bill, and surely expert witnesses contribute to that cost.  It is important for the lawyer and the client to have a clear understanding of the time it will take an expert to become familiar with the essential facts, do whatever research they need (a site visit is almost certainly essential), and prepare to testify.  Just as a good solar installer has to properly manage their client’s expectations, so too must the lawyer keep the client apprised of what the expert will cost, and make sure that the expert knows what those limits are.

After all, the system owner has already gotten sticker shock once, we don’t want to compound that experience!

 

10/25/17

  04:09:00 pm, by admin   , 145 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting, Non-profit solar

Building Client Trust - Podcast with Run on Sun Founder & CEO, Jim Jenal

At Run on Sun we work hard to build trust with our potential clients, and to maintain that trust with those who choose to go forward with us.  Recently, our distribution partner, BayWa, r.e. asked Run on Sun Founder and CEO, Jim Jenal, to join a podcast discussing that very issue.  Jim shared the mic with Tom Miller, Creative Director at BayWa, and Pam Cargill, Principal at Chaolysti Interactive, a consulting firm focused on improving the solar industry.

Although Jim was a bit embarrassed by the title - “In Jim We Trust” is a bit much - he stands by the thoughts expressed!  Check it out:

We would love to hear from both clients and other installers alike - how important is it to build trust?  What do you do to achieve that end?  And what happens when that trust is damaged, how do you make things right?

09/26/17

  08:41:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 232 words  
Categories: PWP Rebates, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Non-profit solar

Pasadena Solar Rebate Ends December 31st!

Pasadena City Hall - home for Run on Sun and Pasadena Solar

The Pasadena Solar Initiative - clearly the best run solar rebate program in SoCal - is ending December 31, 2017!  Here’s our take…

For PWP customers, this means that you need to get a complete rebate application on file before the end-of-year deadline.  You then have six months from the date of the reservation to complete the project.  The rebate, while it lasts, is $0.30/Watt for both residential and commercial customers, and twice that, $0.60/Watt, for non-profits.  If you have been sitting on the sidelines wondering when would be the best time to go solar in PWP territory, well, here’s your answer: Now!

The PSI has been around in its present form almost as long as Run on Sun has been in business, and we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to give credit for this wonderful program.  Over the past nine years it has been a model of how to run a rebate program: open, transparent, easy to participate with predictable rebate amounts, and no sudden interruptions in availability.  (Cf. alleged rebate programs in Glendale and Burbank, or the horrible SGIP program.) 

We are proud to have worked with all the folks behind the PSI at Pasadena Water & Power and they have done a terrific job! We are greatly appreciative of their hard work, particularly Mauricio Mejia, Irma Cid-Lujan, Alex Gonzalez, and John Hoffner.  Thanks for a successful nine years - well done!

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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