Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Energy 'Savings'? Be Careful

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Energy 'Savings'? Be Careful

Article excerpt


You might have gotten the call recently - an offer for a free survey of your's home's energy use and ways to lower your utility bill.

Jacksonville resident Suzanne Mitchell was interested when she got the call. She thought it would be good if she could reduce her carbon footprint for the sake of the environment, provided the deal made sense.

A salesman for Solar First arrived at her home. Not surprisingly, he looked over her house and said she should get a solar water heater. He told her how various rebates and tax credits would drop the cost of a $10,995 system down to $4,600.

That wasn't all. He gave Mitchell a sheet showing she would cut her annual electric bill by $1,080 if she got a solar hot water system.

Mitchell said the Solar First offer seemed too good to be true. Ultimately, she passed on the offer. She made the right decision.

The sheet presented by the salesman showed Mitchell would get a $3,000 federal tax credit for purchasing the system. The federal government does offer a tax credit for solar water heaters, but Mitchell wouldn't have been eligible to benefit from it. Mitchell, 70, has no federal tax liability. The tax credit is nonrefundable, meaning it only reduces what a taxpayer owes. If the liability gets to zero, the tax credit doesn't result in a refund.

Secondly, Mitchell lives alone in her house and isn't a big user of hot water. According to the Florida Solar Energy Center - a research institute at the University of Central Florida - a one-person household would typically save about $168 a year on electric bills by getting a solar hot water system.

Solar First owner Ron Brewer said the company strives to give customers a realistic picture of the costs and savings involved in getting a solar hot water system. He said Solar First shouldn't have tried to sell a system to a senior citizen because a senior typically wouldn't benefit from the federal tax credit.

"We don't want to mislead the public," he said. "If anything, we want to underestimate [savings], not overestimate. I've been in this business for 30 years. I don't want to over-promise and under-deliver."

Solar First is based in Sanford and recently opened a Jacksonville office. Also known as FAFCO Solar First, it has an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau of Central Florida. JEA added Solar First on Nov. 27 to a list of vendors eligible for a rebate up to $800 from the utility for installing solar hot water systems.

The phone call that first whetted Mitchell's curiosity seems to be going around. I received one myself recently from a solar company. The Better Business Bureau of Central Florida said it's noticed a dramatic increase in such calls. It's warning consumers the real aim of those offers of energy inspections is to make a sales call for appliances and costly solar systems. …

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