KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — George Purdy spent years thinking about the possibility of solar powering his home. The idea of never paying an electric bill again made it intriguing, he said.
Still, he didn't think it was possible. His research showed solar equipment and installation costs thousands of dollars. Plus, his Maryville home is surrounded by tall trees.
The military veteran said tax incentives and Knoxville-based Solar Titan's sales representatives convinced him it was worth the investment.
"They told us we would have 100% full solar. We wouldn't have a light bill anymore. We would be able to generate so much power that we'd be selling some of it back to TVA," Purdy said. "We came to an agreement and signed a contract. They came out within a week or two... installed the system in one day."
But, Purdy said, his electric bills never stopped coming.
"It cost us $26,000," Purdy said. "But our return — we're still getting $300-a-month light bills."
In a statement to 10News, Solar Titan said customers should not expect to see their electric bills disappear.
"Solar Titan has served many satisfied customers and we stand by our commitment to customer satisfaction," the company wrote. "Per Solar Titan’s policy, sales representatives are to make clear that customers will continue to receive utility bills, something that is further reflected on Solar Titan’s current customer contract."
Purdy said he bought what's called a 6kW system. His utility provider, Alcoa Electric, later told him he would need closer to 20kW to power his home.
"The company's just taking advantage of people right and left," Purdy said. "That was heartbreaking right there to know that we were totally took."
"This seems to be a problem"
The Tennessee Attorney General's Division of Consumer Affairs in Nashville started receiving complaints about the company last summer.
At least 15 customers filed formal complaints with that office, alleging Solar Titan overpromises and underdelivers.
"They said that the company promised them that this would greatly reduce their electric bill and that in some cases, they would even be able to sell back or provide electricity to the TVA," said Samantha Fisher, the director of communications for the Tennessee Attorney General's Office.
Purdy said his system has never generated enough energy to sell power to the TVA through its Dispersed Power Production Program.
Many of those complaints are from people 60 years of age and older, Fisher said. Nearly all of them have had trouble getting a response from Solar Titan.
"In the end, customers who typically seem to be 60 years old or older are saying, 'Look, we're on a fixed income. We feel like this was a bait and switch," she said. "We were told this was going to save us a lot of money, it hasn't."
Fisher said the state's legal team and consumer protection unit is now investigating those complaints. The Kentucky and Georgia attorneys general said they are also looking into Solar Titan.
"We're looking into the company itself, the promises that were made and we're taking a look at whether aspects of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act may have been violated," Fisher said. "We want customers in Tennessee to know that this seems to be a problem."
Solar Titan said, "it cooperates with any appropriate legal or regulatory inquiry." However, the company said as a policy it "does not comment on the existence or details of such matters."
"I'm losing money"
Ron Wilson said he's spent two years trying to get his Solar Titan issues resolved — ever since George Purdy recommended it to him.
Wilson said he's seen about a 30-40% reduction on his utility bill, but that he was expecting much more.
"I'm paying $350 [a month] for the system, and I'm paying another $160-$170 [a month] for the electric. That's an average," Wilson said. "So, you're talking $550. I'm losing money."
Wilson said he reached out to Solar Titan when he noticed power-production results were significantly less than he had anticipated. He said the company offered him a free battery that would store excess energy generated during the day to power the home at night.
In its statement to WBIR, Solar Titan said it "works closely with customers on all issues related to their solar power system, including facilitating interconnection with utility companies and finding the best system to meet customers’ preferences, and the company always strives to respond quickly to any customer service issue."
Wilson said he still hasn't received the battery it offered, despite repeatedly following up.
"They're trying to sell stuff that is not going to take care of business," Wilson said. "In the beginning, it was a good deal. Of course, now I'm sitting here and wishing I hadn't ever done it."
His friend George Purdy wishes neither of them had signed contracts with Solar Titan.
"Be careful. Run away," Purdy said. "The system doesn't work. Now I've got a good friend who's been took for more money than I have and that bothers me."
Full statement from Solar Titan:
"Solar Titan has served many satisfied customers and we stand by our commitment to customer satisfaction. Per Solar Titan’s policy, sales representatives are to make clear that customers will continue to receive utility bills, something that is further reflected on Solar Titan’s current customer contract. Solar Titan works closely with customers on all issues related to their solar power system, including facilitating interconnection with utility companies and finding the best system to meet customers’ preferences, and the company always strives to respond quickly to any customer service issue. Regarding legal issues, Solar Titan cooperates with any appropriate legal or regulatory inquiry. As a policy, Solar Titan does not comment on the existence or details of such matters.
If any customers have concerns, they can contact Solar Titan at 865-392-1036 or by email at email@example.com."
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