Lawmakers ask CFPB to take a fresh look at SolarCity leases

Back in July we read about a scheme that SolarCity has put together whereby they would lease (rather than sell) rooftop solar power panel installations to consumers and pocket government green energy subsidy dollars themselves. (A legal plan, but one which keeps the subsidy money from going to the consumers it was intended to benefit.) So, without those subsidies coming in, were the homeowners really saving any money by adding these “green technology” features to their property while they tried to save the planet? Turns out that’s not so easy to calculate, even for industry analysts, and the consumers probably have no way of knowing.

In Arizona a few Democrats (!) have asked the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look things over and see if this is actually a good deal or not.

With the vast majority of rooftop systems now being leased, rather than sold — most of them through a single company, SolarCity of California — it seems reasonable to ask whether those leases really do pencil out.

Or at least it did to three Democratic members of the Arizona congressional delegation, who asked the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington to have a look at rooftop solar leases. In a letter, Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Kyrsten Sinema and Ron Barber, as well as Rep. Gene Green of Texas, raised concerns about details that struck them as similar to what we saw during the subprime mortgage crisis:

“Customers are quoted savings each month on their utility bills. However, who calculates those estimations and are they accurate?”

The reaction from the industry might fall under the category of those who doth protest too much.

“Liberal lawmakers smear rooftop solar forgetting that Arizonans want to ‘go green’ AND ‘save green,’ ” screamed the hyperbolic headline of a press release from an industry advocacy group.

Well, we can all relate to that tired old story. Those liberal Democrat lawmakers are always trying to squash green energy initiatives and thwart the people who are trying to save the planet.

Wait… what?

Just to be clear here, I’m not issuing any sort of indictment on rooftop solar energy installations in general. As I’ve said time after time, I actually do endorse an All Of The Above energy policy, unlike some in the White House who simply claim to. If you live in an area with enough sunlight and want to mix some solar into your energy plan, by all means, go for it. The same goes with wind, micro-hydro and the few people who live where geothermal can be exploited. But if you’re going to go into the business of selling solar installations to people based on the claim that they’re going to be saving money, let’s make sure you can actually back up that claim when the bill comes due.