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MEC warns about solar energy deals

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

The Mountain Electric Cooperative recently warned co-op members of what officials believe may be a solar panel scam circulating on social media. According to Director of Member Services Sally Snyder, she came across misleading information on this subject in an online ad targeting Johnson County citizens while scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed. According to Snyder, citizens have called asking about the details, ready to sign up. The issue reaches far past Johnson County’s borders.

“MEC has become aware of some misleading information being shared to Co-op members concerning renewable energy projects,” Mountain Electric announced to customers. “Some solar contractors are becoming more and more aggressive. These contractors will call upon local members and offer solar installation opportunities.”

The ad in question offers a $2,000 incentive for signing up as well as solar panels and a backup battery with no money down through what advertisers are calling the Johnson County Homeowner Solar Stimulus Program.There are reports from Northeast Tennessee co-ops, including Hawkins and Jefferson Counties, and complaints to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about this particular issue. There are nearly 200 complaints listed, some as recent as two weeks before this article’s publication.

“Mountain Electric supports solar projects,” Snyder explained. “We just want to make sure they choose the right one. We want employees to remain safe. This could be life or death for linemen.”

Mountain Electric representatives also expressed concern for linemen safety. Panels installed incorrectly can cause back feed, which sends voltage in reverse and can electrocute linemen. Complaints to the BBB from August 31 and October 5 this year report technicians getting shocked while attempting to install and service, panels. Mountain Electric officials ask that customers make an interconnection agreement so they can be aware of any extra voltage.

Snyder reports that the company is “not worried about competition.” She explained that solar panels produce far less energy than customers have been led to believe. She seemed more worried about customer debt, mentioning instances where customers have gone into debt and even had liens against their homes after hidden costs were revealed.

“We’re really interested in making sure that the community is not being scammed,” MEC General Manager Joseph Thacker III told The Tomahawk.

Mountain Electric asks that interested parties hold off on solar panels until it launches its new program Green Connect on January 4, 2021. This program directs customers to companies vetted through the BBB. For a $300 application fee, the co-op will have an engineer access the site and work with the installer to make sure the process goes smoothly. Solar calculators are available online to help calculate how much solar power may save in electricity costs. Contact Sally Snyder with any questions at (423) 727-7811.