Title Graphic The Truth about "Free" Solar Programs

The Truth About “Free” Solar Programs

July 17, 2023

As you’ve been shopping around for a reliable, top-quality solar panel system, you may have seen advertisements for free solar panels or no-cost solar programs. These ads typically state that companies will install solar panels onto your roof for free, often with the claim that the government requires it. They boast the long-term benefits of solar panels, like reduced energy bills, government tax incentives, and your home increasing in value. So you get all of these great benefits without having to actually pay for your solar panels!

If this all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

While solar is one of the most abundant sources of energy on the planet, solar panels are sadly not free. It costs money to make, install, and maintain them. And while the United States is aiming to transition to clean electricity and net-zero emission by 2050, the government is sadly not funding mass-installation of solar panels for private homes. These ads state the benefits of owning solar panels, but leave out some very important details and context. 

Here is the truth about these “free” solar programs so you don’t get fooled.

“Free Solar” Comes at a Price

The advertising for “free” solar panels is deceptive. These ads use vague language to make it sound like you’ll only be saving money, not spending it. But if you read the fine print or look at the contracts they have you sign, it’s revealed that what you’re actually participating in is a leasing program.

To put it bluntly, when you agree to this “free” installation, you don’t own the solar panels, you don’t get to choose what brand of solar panels are installed, and you’re stuck in a long-term contract. These contracts typically lock you in for 25+ years and almost always include electricity price escalators over the term. So while you may not have to pay anything upfront, there is a price, and you don’t get many of the financial benefits outright owning your home’s solar panels provides.

Owning Solar Panels vs Free/Leased Panels Infographic

You’re Still Paying Bills

One of the major benefits of solar panels is that you don’t have a massive energy bill to pay. In fact, when your home has solar panels installed, your bill can go down to $0 per month. When you lease, you are still paying a monthly bill to the owner of the solar panels. This bill may still at least be slightly less than the normal cost of Massachusetts’ utilities, but it’s still a cost you need to factor into your monthly budget. While you may have gotten the solar panels installed for free, you’re still paying for energy, whereas no electricity bills is typically one of the biggest draws of solar. 

Miss Out on Tax Benefits

Solar power has been on the rise as it is clean, renewable energy that can power your whole house. It’s especially prominent in Massachusetts, as the state offers great solar incentives to encourage more homeowners to switch to solar. However, these benefits are limited to the owner of the solar panels, which isn’t you. So while these “free” solar panel advertisements tout the tax benefits, they ignore the fact that you won’t actually qualify for them.

Perhaps the biggest tax benefit you’ll be missing out on is the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit. This gives eligible homeowners up to a 30% federal tax credit on solar panel systems installed or that will be installed between 2022 and 2032. If you are simply leasing the solar panels and didn’t pay to get them installed, you will not qualify for this credit. 

Massachusetts residents who lease their solar panels also miss out on the SMART Program. This program pays solar owners a predictable price every month for their system’s energy production. But again, you aren’t the true owner, so you miss out. 

Can Make Selling You House Harder

Many of these advertisements claim that adding solar panels to your house will increase your home’s value. This is true, however, when you lease solar panels instead of fully owning them, it becomes harder to sell your home. After all, you don’t own the solar panels, so when you sell, the company you’re leasing these panels from has to approve of the new owners and decide if they qualify for the incentives. So the already exhausting process of selling your home becomes so much more complicated, and what should be making your home more appealing to potential buyers is now turning them away.

Don’t get us wrong – solar leasing can be a viable option for some homeowners. In particular, it’s great for those who don’t have the option of buying solar panels outright due to a tight budget. It allows them to still make an environmental difference and save some money on their energy bills.

The issue is deceptive advertising trapping unsuspecting consumers in long-term contracts. So remember, just like there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as free solar panels. Do your research, consider the pros and cons of buying and leasing solar panels, and make your decision based on facts.