Some of Oregon’s solar customers are going to miss out on thousands of dollars in savings, thanks to the expiration last weekend of Oregon’s solar tax credit.
And to add a little sting, some of those deadline-missing customers were victims of installation delays beyond their control.
While lawmakers in nearby Washington recently approved new incentives for solar power, Oregon lawmakers killed their state’s tax credit last year. That created a rush to buy solar systems before the incentive vanished.
To qualify for a tax credit worth up to $6,000, systems needed to be inspected and operational by Sunday.
Redmond homeowners Hilda and Judd Wagner are breathing easier after the deadline passed.
They are among about two-dozen customers in Oregon — and among more than 100 across the West — who paid a Utah-based company for solar systems that were never completed.
The Wagners had paid Legend Solar $10,000, only to end up with just over $1,000 worth of racking. So with the deadline approaching, they had an eyesore on their roof and still no solar production. But in recent weeks the Wagners were among 20 Oregon customers who were hooked up with other installers.
“It turned out great,” Hilda Wagner said. Her project just beat the deadline. “But I’m still a little bewildered that Legend got themselves into the situation.”
Wagner is still in a dispute with Legend Solar to recover the money the company took for work it didn’t complete.
Two of Legend Solar’s competitors, Elemental Energy and A&R Solar, offered to take over those 25 jobs at no additional cost to customers. They did so at the request of the Energy Trust of Oregon after Legend Solar spent its way into what it called an “extreme cash flow problem” and lost its license, leaving the company unable to complete jobs or pay its employees.
“We decided we could do this at a break-even or a modest enough loss that we could help remove the potential black eye that this is going to leave for Oregon solar,” A&R sales director Michael O’Brien said. “It was really a break-neck effort to get these customers installed.”
The state has doled out about 1,650 tax credits for the year so far, according to the state’s Department of Energy. Another 1,200 applications are done and just awaiting the homeowner’s review.
But at least 470 solar projects are still “open” in Oregon, meaning they are either not finished or still awaiting inspection. The state won’t know for sure how many of those qualify until the final paperwork deadline in June.
Five of Legend Solar’s customers declined the offer from the new companies, instead seeking refunds for the unfinished work. Of the 20 remaining, the companies completed all but two home installations before the April 1 deadline.
Elemental Energy owner John Grieser, who finished Wagner’s installation, said his staff worked nonstop for a month to finish all the jobs it took over from Legend Solar.
“We had one customer say, 'thank you, you saved our marriage.' We had one customer who upon completion gave our project manager just a full embracing hug,” Grieser.
Many solar customers beyond those with Legend Solar could be at risk of missing out on the expiring tax credits because of installation delays. Tesla-owned Solar City is among those to generate such customer complaints.
The legislative deadline offers no flexibility, even for people who might miss it through no fault of their own, Oregon Department of Energy spokeswoman Rachel Wray said.
“We know it’s a difficult situation for some people as this long-standing program ends,” Oregon Department of Energy spokeswoman Rachel Wray said.
“We looked at ways we might be able to accommodate people having trouble meeting the deadline, but the law doesn’t give us that flexibility.”
Wray said the number of open projects had dropped from 775 to 470 in the past couple of weeks, indicating good progress on unfinished installations.
Other states have established recovery funds as a consumer protection measure in the growing solar industry. In Minnesota, where a solar company recently took customers' money and left them without solar panels, an industry-supported fund offers up to $75,000 for affected homeowners.
Neither the state Department of Energy nor the Energy Trust of Oregon said they were aware of plans to establish such a fund in Oregon.