Disclosure bill aims to protect consumers, solar industry from getting burned

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COMMENTARY: Good ethics is good business. As a member organization that represents businesses of all sizes, the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI) prides itself on the fact that so many of our members – most of which are small businesses – were built upon honest hard work and upfront dealings with their customers. That’s just good common sense that makes for good business, as well as a good community.

Jason Espinoza

Courtesy photo

Jason Espinoza

Extremely harmful to consumers, communities and the reputations of honest local businesses, however, are bad actors coming into our state, specifically those using deceptive practices to lure seniors and vulnerable families into too-good-to-be-true deals. If we allow this to go on, it hurts us all.

A young marketplace, such as that of the nascent solar industry, can be fraught with bad actors. With the cost of solar becoming more affordable, home installations of rooftop solar have grown substantially and are helping create real economic opportunity here in New Mexico. Consumers see the value in renewable energy, and with this increased popularity, New Mexico is relatively vulnerable to unscrupulous outfits coming in to sell private solar in our state with high-pressure sales practices and confusing, even misleading, paperwork.

In the last year, the Attorney General’s Office has received dozens of solar-related complaints. And our state’s electrical utilities are receiving hundreds of communications from concerned and confused customers.

Solar is a significant, long-term investment for homeowners that can be even more difficult to understand than other major purchases such as buying the home itself, or a car, or major home improvements, such as repaving the driveway. Because private rooftop solar has complex equipment, financing or leasing considerations, in addition to rebate and tax-incentive programs, there is a need for consumer protection in New Mexico — specifically for solar, through better disclosures.

This session, state Sen. Clemente Sanchez and Rep. Debbie Rodella have both introduced legislation – Senate Bill 210 and House Bill 199, respectively – to provide clarity and full financial disclosure for consumers wishing to install rooftop solar on their homes.

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Proponents of this bill worked with all sizes of local solar companies, as well as environmental organizations, homeowners and small businesses, and even low-income advocacy organizations to create a bill that is honest and best protects New Mexico consumers and their families, while supporting the New Mexico solar industry – comprised of many small businesses in communities throughout the state.

Installing home rooftop solar is a long-term investment that requires openness and transparency. Unfortunately, some environmental organizations have mistakenly assumed this legislation is intended to slow the growth of solar in New Mexico.

Solar is clearly gaining the traction in the marketplace it needs. Reasonable disclosure of the kind of information honest solar companies are already sharing with their customers is not going to slow solar, but instead help support additional growth by giving New Mexicans the sound peace of mind to make their solar investment choices with a greater degree of confidence – confidence they deserve. And confident buyers make for more and better local business.

Not only is this legislation designed to help promote our local solar industry by protecting more consumers from getting burned by deceptive practices, it is also intended to help streamline business processes, with elements like the uniform disclosure form described in the legislation, which not only saves time and money, but also helps create an even playing field for local New Mexico solar companies and those legitimate companies wanting to do business in New Mexico.

Fundamentally, This legislation is an important, reasonable, and timely step in the right direction to accomplish just that.

Jason Espinoza is the president and CEO of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry.

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