New Nevada law holds solar contractors to stricter standards

A crewmember at Reno-based Simple Power Solar grabs a solar panel to be installed while working on a residential project.

A crewmember at Reno-based Simple Power Solar grabs a solar panel to be installed while working on a residential project. Courtesy Photo

In 2019, Mark Dickson, president of Simple Power Solar in Reno, received a unique request come from the Nevada State Contractors Board (NSCB).

The solar energy company was asked to complete roughly two dozen residential solar panel installation projects that were left unfinished by a contractor.

“They sold all of these contracts, they did a lot of the work, and then just took off,” Dickson said. “They left their customers unable to do anything because they couldn’t close down their permits, they couldn’t turn the system on. And a lot of them were financed systems, so they had to start paying on it, but their system wasn’t turned on to actually make them any money back.”

Despite being busy with its own customers, Simple Power Solar made time to polish off the projects for residents who were left with a lot of bills and no solar power.

“We said, ‘we’ve got to take care of these people,’” Dickson said. “I heard there were hundreds of projects throughout Nevada the company did like that. They just took off and they weren’t answering their phones.”

Companies with unethical business practices, fleecing consumers and then going off the grid, is an unfortunate trend Dickson has seen since he entered the solar industry in 2007.

“We get a lot of these fly-by-night companies that come in and sell a bunch of jobs and pass them off to other companies that we call ‘white-label trucks’ that do the installations,” he said. “A lot of them are just sales companies, and the ethics just aren’t there and they’re not the end person to answer the questions or concerns of the consumer. When you’ve got the seller on the front end and the contractor on the other end, there’s just nobody culpable at the end. It’s unfortunately put a black eye on the solar industry.”

RELATED: Tax credits, rising electricity bills aid Reno-Sparks solar sales surge

A new law that went into effect Oct. 1 is trying to change that. Senate Bill 303, spearheaded by Sen. Chris Brooks and signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak during the 2021 Legislative session, aims to enhance consumer protections for all parties engaging in connecting a solar energy system in their home.

Now, the state’s residential solar contractors are required to obtain building permits; comply with the NSCB’s contracting statutes and regulations; and meet requirements imposed by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) or other regulating entity throughout completion of each project.

The law also requires any advertising or solicitation for residential solar projects be truthful or the contractor could be disciplined by the NSCB. Further, solar companies must limit a customer’s down payment to $1,000 or 10% of the contract value, whichever is less, said Paul Rozario, director of investigations at NSCB.

“This bill gives a good framework for protection for the homeowners,” Rozario told the NNBW. “We’ve had issues where we had contractors that were taking $30,000 down and walking away, and their license gets revoked. And then all of a sudden I’ve got a homeowner who’s harmed $30,000 and has literally nothing.”

Since 2016, NSCB has received 331 complaints against solar contractors, resulting in 21 companies getting licenses revoked, including six from Reno-Sparks.

Over that span, complaints have resulted in 174 residential fund claims against solar companies, awarding Nevada homeowners more than $770,000 in damages and refunds.

All told, more than 60% of residential fund claims NCSB has received over the past five years are due to complaints filed against solar contractors, Rozario said.

“You have a disproportionate amount of complaints coming up against one certain type of contractor,” he continued. “There are a lot of very good players in solar in Nevada, but, like any other trade, you find some bad contractors. And we think this would potentially limit the harm to the public and really hold the contractors to a stricter standard than (before the law).”

Simple Power Solar, for one, will not have to change any of its business practices as a result of the new law.

“I read through the whole thing and we checked all the boxes,” Dickson said. “Nothing’s unreasonable in there, so we’re all for it. As long as you’re a gainful contractor, you shouldn’t have any issues with it.”

And gainful Simple Power Solar has been. The company is on track to generate $5.5 million in revenue this year, nearly a 45% jump compared to 2020.

“The solar industry is booming, so the new bill is really timely,” Dickson said. “It’s been called the ‘solar coaster,’ but we’re in a boom right now, even with the supply constraints.”

Dickson chalks up some of the demand as a byproduct of the pandemic and the worsening wildfire seasons.

“With the remodel market, people are sitting at home during COVID and realizing, hey, let’s finally do the solar project,” he said. “The other part is there’s fear out there. People are thinking about ... creating their own energy and not being tied to the grid and not being bound to their utility bills that is going to keep on. And then of course all of the power safety shutoffs that keep happening around the fires, and that gets everybody keeping about energy storage and batteries.”

Another driver in solar projects is the federal solar tax credit, the investment tax credit (ITC), which allows customer to deduct 26% of the cost of installing solar energy system from their federal taxes. It was set to expire at the end of 2020, but Congress extended the ITC at 26% for two additional years.


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