‘I have been totally taken advantage of’: The high cost of ‘free solar’

ORLANDO, Fla. — A local homeowner claims a door-to-door solar sales team burned her for thousands of dollars selling a system that won’t save her a dime.

Solar panels cover the roof at Billie Ramos’ home near Ocoee. She says she was told about the solar company by two women who knocked on her door.

Ramos said she was told, “They’re working for the government to help people to go green and when she said free solar, she just didn’t say what the free was for.”

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According to Ramos, one of the women told her she qualified for a $15,000 federal tax incentive, so her loan payments would be very low. She said she was also told that the solar system would slash her power bill and that she would save money every month.

Ramos was told Atlantic Key Energy supplied the system. She signed a $42,000 contract.

“I feel like I have been totally taken advantage of. How dare they tell me they’re a representative of the U.S. government,” Ramos said.

Ramos later discovered that she didn’t qualify for a tax incentive, and even though her utility bill was reduced, the high loan payments meant her power expenses had increased every month.

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She complained to a manager at Atlantic Key Energy.

“He was arrogant, rude. I have never had anyone talk to me like that,” Ramos said.

Atlantic Key Energy has four complaints at the Better Business Bureau. It’s rated A-plus for responding.

One sales complaint is from a homeowner who claimed that, despite having no-solicitation signs, someone from Atlantic Key still came to the front door, selling a solar system. When they were told to leave, the owner claims the sales person threatened to shut off her power.

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John Sherwin with the Florida Solar Energy Center says , in general, don’t sign any door-to-door solar sale contracts the same day they show up at your home.

“You would want to get, like any other contracts Todd, you want to get multiple quotes, and you want to see where they are coming from with those numbers,” Sherwin said.

Todd Ulrich contacted Atlantic Key Energy. The company owner told Ulrich they had used an independent solar sales firm but he does not condone the tactics that firm used, so his company ended that relationship. The owner also said he believes customer satisfaction and integrity are critical, so Atlantic Key paid off Ramos’ loan, and she can keep the system for free.

If it’s a door-to-door solar sale, just say “no” until you’ve researched the company, and get at least two other written estimates before you sign any contracts.

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Atlantic Key Energy also told Action 9 that it’s taken steps to make sure that any sales company it uses in the future fully discloses terms and costs of installation to customers.

Atlantic Key Energy response:

When Atlantic Key Energy was made aware of the situation with Mrs. Ramos, we promptly resolved it directly with the customer and the appointment setter involved with the situation is no longer associated with Atlantic Key Energy or the dealer.

Mrs. Ramos Testimonial: (“I am blown away by how kind and prompt AKE has been in handling this situation, and in taking care of me. I am very happy with my solar, and I would recommend AKE to anyone who would like solar.”)

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We have been serving our community in central Florida for many years now and take a great deal of pride in the work we do.

We constantly work to improve training, systems, and technology to ensure our customers have the best experiences and hundreds of five-star reviews on Google illustrate that fact. Long standing policies include pricing caps, training, and software updates that better manage the customer experience

Todd Ulrich

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.