KNIGHTSTOWN, Ind. – Our months-long investigation started with an email.
In January, an Indiana couple said they had purchased solar panels from a company called Powerhome Solar, LLC and that they had been waiting months for the installer to meet with RushShelby Energy to “switch” them over. The couple, Anthony and Becky Encao, had signed their contract in October 2021 and said they were already frustrated with the customer service they had been provided.
“Work was scheduled for November eighth and ninth and I was very optimistic,” Anthony emailed CBS4. “Workers showed up almost four hours late on the first day. On the second day, a second crew arrived to finish the work and ended up reworking most of the work from day one. The company then stalled on their internal inspection.”
Dozens of other homeowners share frustration
In February, CBS4 started digging into the company and its history. We quickly found dozens of other homeowners who were upset with their Powerhome Solar deal.
“Our power bills were not what they promised them to be,” Annemarie Bretz said over Zoom.
“What they sold me was not sufficient and did not stand up in any regard to what they promised,” Harley Swan added.
Each person appeared to have one common complaint: they said their salesperson verbally promised to eliminate most, if not their entire power bill, but failed to do so. Most of the people CBS4 spoke with said the solar panels were not producing as much power as they had expected and were left to pay back large loans they had taken out, hundreds of dollars on their traditional power bills and in some cases, on an additional umbrella policy required by their insurance.
“We did this to save money and now were spending twice as much,” Kevin Jarboe said.
“Anger, anger, anger, I have so much anger!” Sheila Pietka exclaimed.
Indiana homeowners plead for help
Doug Johnson and his wife moved from California to Mooresville to be closer to family. In the fall, Johnson decided he wanted a backup plan for power outages. He had seen Powerhome Solar’s advertisements on TV and online, so he gave them a call. He pulled out a loan for $56,000 and signed the digital contract. Workers installed his panels in October 2021.
“From there, all we saw was our electricity bill – our electric bill from SMSC – go up,” he said. “Electric bills were going up and we weren’t getting any activity from the solar panels. Very little, maybe 4kW a day.”
Like many others, Johnson told CBS4 his salesperson had promised to get rid of his electric bill almost completely.
“Except for our service fee,” he said. “That has not happened.”
Johnson pulled up his app, which detailed how much power he was pulling from the grid and how much was being generated from his solar panels. It showed his house was using a little more than 2kW. He was pulling 1.75kW from the grid on a clear, sunny day.
“We just feel like we have been ripped off,” he said. “It’s not working like it’s supposed to. I feel like I have been cheated, I feel like I have been duped and kind of stupid for not doing more research on this whole thing.”
Johnson, who had retired, told CBS4 he was considering going back to work to pay for the monthly costs associated with the panels. In the meantime, he was waiting to hear when Powerhome Solar employees would be returning to his home to repair a roof leak he believes they caused during the install. The company said they had reached out in late February but that Johnson had wanted to wait for better weather.
Kevin and Amy Jarboe found Powerhome Solar, LLC online as well. Amy had always wanted solar panels and after meeting with their salesperson, figured a 25-year loan would pay off eventually.
“They were like, ‘We’re going to put 18 panels on your house and you’re going to produce enough power that you won’t have an electric bill anymore,’” Jarboe recalled. “And you’re like, that sounds awesome!”
The Jarboes said they gave Powerhome Solar, LLC a year’s worth of electric bills so the company could determine how many panels they would need to power their home. The couple signed their contract in February 2021 and the panels were turned on in July.
“It wasn’t until after they were on and working that we got the first power bill and we were like, now what’s up” Kevin recalled. “You start running in July and its sunny, it’s nice. Where they ended up putting them it looked like it had sun all the time.”
Amy called their salesperson but was reassured it would be OK. They were told to give the panels another month.
“The next month, we get a little bit bigger power bill. And were like ok, now we’re two power bills deep and it’s going up,” Kevin told CBS4.
Eventually, the Jarboes said their salesperson promised to cut them a check, but the reimbursement never came. Months later, the Jarboes said their salesperson stopped taking their calls. They were transferred to several different “concierge” representatives, but never got a clear answer. They also wondered whether their contract would hold up, given PHS had listed the wrong power company.
After CBS4 specifically asked Powerhome Solar about this couple and their system, the business responded:
“The design changes were signed off on by the customer on the day of install. Duke Energy is on the proposal because it provides 1:1 net metering and their current power company does not. Their current, correct utility is listed on everything utility related in the account. Powerhome is reimbursing Kevin and Amy two loan payments for any delays they may have experienced.”Power Home Solar statement
CBS4 spoke with Anthony and Becky Encao in person. Together, they urged potential solar panel customers to shop elsewhere.
“Pick a different one. There are a couple other companies in the area. I haven’t done business with any of them but they’d be my first pick,” Anthony said. “Anybody but Powerhome Solar.”
CBS4 reaches out to Powerhome Solar, LLC
The contact between anchor Angela Brauer and Powerhome Solar, LLC was unique. In the middle of this investigation, a woman named Cindy unexpectedly called Brauer and asked for our station to connect the company with frustrated customers. She said she had found out about the story on Facebook.
CBS4 ended up playing a bit of phone tag, but eventually heard back from a different person. On that voicemail, the woman offered to “get us everything we would need” for our story.
We called Cindy back directly and she informed us someone else had taken over, but that the individual in charge was prepared for our questions. After asking for more time to respond, CBS4 realized Powerhome had hired a PR firm to communicate. The representative asked whether we had vetted the customers we spoke with. The email read, “ie: have you seen their contracts and can you confirm they are in fact Powerhome customers? Powerhome was not able to verify a number of the Facebook group participants as actual customers or even establish if they are real people and not fake accounts.”
CBS4 assured Powerhome Solar’s PR group that we had vetted each customer by asking for a signed copy of their contract and any paperwork they had showing their business with PHS. Dozens of people had sent us their contract, asking for help or for CBS4 to do a story. Some forwarded CBS4 their emails to prove they had received a limited response, if anything at all.
A Powerhome Solar spokesperson also issued this statement:
“Powerhome Solar is committed to customer satisfaction and is always looking for ways to better serve our customers and their needs. We strongly encourage Powerhome customers to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or for help getting the most out of their solar system.”Power Home Solar statement
CBS4 requested to speak with someone directly at Powerhome Solar, LLC multiple times, but never received a response to that question in particular. That is when we visited the Indianapolis office. Inside, we asked to speak with a manager. A man suggested we contact corporate, but we kept asking questions.
“We’re not allowed to respond to anything,” he said. “This is an install only operation at this location.”
When CBS4 asked what that meant, given the handful of marked sedans in the front parking lot and us overhearing a meeting going on behind closed doors nearby, he responded, “I think it’s time for you to go.”
Later, Powerhome emailed CBS4:
“Powerhome will get in touch with any customer that you identify in an effort to address any issues. Customer satisfaction is of the utmost importance to Powerhome. As we discussed previously, one of the customers you spoke with hadn’t contacted Powerhome customer service previously. Powerhome simply wants the opportunity to serve its customers and satisfactorily address their concerns.”Power Home Solar statement
Better Business Bureau response
The Better Business Bureau gives Powerhome Solar, LLC an “A+” rating.
We asked the Better Business Bureau why Powerhome Solar, LLC has an A+ rating, given that most of its customer reviews are one star.
The BBB of Southern Piedmont and Western North Carolina (where Powerhome Solar, LLC is headquartered) sent us this response:
- Customer reviews do not impact a company’s BBB letter grade rating, and instead have a separate star rating system strictly related to the customer reviews themselves during a 3-year reporting period.
- BBB letter grade ratings are based on multiple factors which can be viewed here in more detail: https://www.bbb.org/overview-of-bbb-ratings
- With regard to complaint volume, this is compared to a company’s size/volume of business. It is worth noting that POWERHOME SOLAR has 24 locations linked to their unified profile and all BBB complaints across all locations reflect on the unified HQ profile. Responsiveness to any complaints is another component taken into consideration with the rating algorithm as well.
- That being said, companies are regularly reviewed for possibly having what BBB refers to as a pattern of complaints. In such cases, the companies are contacted with request to voluntarily create multi-step plans for addressing the source of the pattern. Depending on the efforts made by the company, a company could very well have their accreditation revoked.
- Any BBB business profile status change from investigations, pattern of complaints, and/or revocation becomes reflected on business profiles for the public.
What to look for if you’re shopping for solar panels
We asked Chris Chastain with RushShelby Energy what he had heard about Powerhome Solar. During our interview in February, he confirmed about 65 houses within their jurisdiction had installed solar panels. About 21 were with Powerhome Solar.
Chastain warned there are several red flags people should be aware of:
- Be on the lookout for installers who make false claims about excessive annual utility rate increases
- Installers that tell you not to contact your electric cooperative
- Be wary of misleading projected savings
- Be cautious of anyone rushing you into a decision
“Some people claim you’re no longer going to receive an electric bill, but if you want our service – if you want to be connected to us – we need to work together and there is a cost to that,” he clarified.
Chastain also explained people should be educated about what kind of power they’re using compared to how much, so they can better understand how many kilowatts they’re using any given day.
If you have been affected by PolarHome Solar, please contact Angela Brauer.