Clerical error almost costs Charlotte family thousands of dollars in solar rebates

Clerical error almost costs Charlotte family thousands of dollars in solar rebates

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Freemans live in The Vineyards on Lake Wylie.

They didn't want solar panels at first. Then they thought about the savings and the rebates they could get: $10,000 from the federal government and $6,000 from Duke Energy.

"We set it all up. We signed the paperwork. The installation went well," Lisa Freeman said.

Content Continues Below

They got their federal rebate, but not the Duke one. Apparently, the solar company, Accelerate Solar, made a clerical error.

"They submitted it under my husband's name and my name's on the electric bill. It should have been submitted under my name," Freeman told Action 9's Jason Stoogenke.

While the paperwork was working its way through the system, Duke's deadline for the rebate came and went. So, by the time Duke rejected it, it was too late to correct.

"My husband and I were beside ourselves, wondering, 'What do we do?' We kind of felt deceived," Freeman said.

They contacted Accelerate Solar, but say that didn't work. So they emailed Stoogenke.

"When [Action 9] reached out to them, they realized that my husband and I, our case had fallen through the cracks and they were more than willing to pay back the $6,000 that Duke did not," Freeman said. "Very relieved."

Accelerate Solar sent Action 9 this statement:

"I want to thank you on behalf of our organization, for bringing this unfortunate situation to our attention. We have already reached out to Mr. Freeman and are more than willing to reimburse him for the rebate that our former employee failed to file properly. Of 116 customers we submitted for the Duke Energy rebate, 113 were approved and we have reimbursed the other customers that did not receive the rebate as we had hoped. To try and prevent sales people from over promising potential customers, we utilize a disclosure page that attempts to lay out what the customer has been promised by the salesperson. The disclosure statement in effect has the customer affirm that they are not purchasing the system because of any rebate. Note the attached signed disclosure from Ron Freeman and notice the 3rd from last bullet point.

"We found that Duke tended to make the rebate process cumbersome for our company to complete and we now have customers secure their the rebate position on their own while we provide the proper documentation. The employee who made the error, in listing the incorrect spouse, was terminated months ago due to his poor job performance. We have also addressed our concerns with the Freeman's complaint not being brought to the attention of management, with the employee's they spoke with as they attempted to get this situation resolved with the salesman.

"While our company is expanding into other geographic regions, I believe our employee, unfortunately, mentioned our expansion to Mr. Freeman in an attempt to explain the delay rather than excuse it. We are a solar company that has been built from the ground up by myself and Xavier Veille eight years ago, here in the Charlotte area. As the business grows, we have experienced a bit of a learning curve in dealing with the increased volume of work and customer base with the Duke Rebate. It has been quite frustrating how Duke handled this project as they have been advertising this rebate and it turns out it was only available for a 33 minute window from 9:01 AM to 9:34 AM on Jan 2nd, 2019. We are a much smaller company than Duke Energy, but we have elected to come out of pocket to make our customers right.

"Overall, it has cost us in excess of $100k between the different rebates Duke Energy has offered over the past four years in NC/SC and has required a lot of financial planning to pull off covering everyone. At times, it feels as though Duke Energy set the rebate program up in this fashion to harm solar energy companies in NC. The entire year of solar rebates available for NC residential clients was gone after 33 minutes of being introduced and there have been many news stories released regarding the frustration Duke Energy has caused the NC solar industry from 2019."

Duke defended the program and its user-friendliness.

“I think the process has worked well. I mean we’ve had more than 6,000 customers successfully navigate it over the past two years,” Duke spokesperson Randy Wheeless said. “It actually helps these installer companies because, basically, we’re giving it to customers. They in turn are giving it to these installer companies to spur more rooftop adoption in the state.”

Advice:

  • If you go solar, do it earlier in the year. It gives you more room for error when you apply for a rebate. Plus, Duke’s rebate program has a set amount of money. So it’s first come, first served. Duke says about 60% of applicants get rebates.
  • You can even apply for the rebate before you install the panels.
  • If a company says it works with Duke or always gets the rebate, be suspicious. No one can promise that.
Action 9: Some customers regret spending on solar panels