As a progressive who worked hard to help get Secretary Hillary Clinton elected, it is challenging for me to accept Donald Trump as president. But he won.
At least for now, I have to make the best of a bad situation. Which means progressives like have to both resist the Trump administration’s odious policies, and also pressure – and even cooperate with – the administration to implement policies that reflect our worldview.
This is why I was interested to see a recent letter sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by three Democratic congressmen. Signed by Henry Cuellar of Texas, Emmanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, it asked the CFPB to look into bad actors operating in the rooftop solar industry.
What we are talking about here are those salespeople that go door-to-door and bombard consumers with telemarketing calls urging put solar panels on their rooftops.
For some people, rooftop solar makes both environmental and financial sense. This is why I support the industry.
But what concern me and those three congressmen are the shady operators that mislead potential customers about cost-saving benefits of installing those panels.
First, new customers may be unaware that the panels can cost upwards of $15,000 and that until that money, they will have an additional lien against their home, making it harder to sell and decreasing its value. For Americans barely getting by, and counting on every dollar of equity in their house, this is problematic.
Second, salespeople sometimes tell customers that they will save a lot of money on their utility bill. In reality, many people’s electric bills are coming down, stabilizing or going up single digits. This is because of the cheap and abundant natural gas used to produce electricity.
Solar panel customers don’t see any savings on electric bills, but have to pay back the cost of buying or leasing the panels. Every month, people are out of pocket more, not less.
Third, many solar panel sales pitches include promises of “no money down” and other pressure sales tactics. Anyone who has ever dealt with a shady salesperson knows that these tactics are not the tools of an honest broker.
Plus, as the Wall Street Journal exposed, many solar panel salespeople are pitching so-called government loans that can be used to help make homes more energy-efficient.
In reality, these Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans give creditors top priority on securing repayment – even priority over a mortgage. No wonder, according to the Journal, that PACE loans are likely “the fastest-growing type of financing in the U.S.” The title of the article should make us all fearful: “America’s Fastest Growing Loan Category Has Eerie Echoes of Subprime Crisis.”
The CFPB letter from Congressmen Cleaver, Cuella and Thompson illustrates why this regulatory agency is important. Action against these shady rooftop solar companies (who seem to target communities of color) is one way that this administration could showcase its commitment to the working people who supported it.
President Trump hosted a “listening session” with some Black Republicans “in honor” of Black History Month, but he made no specific commitments. It would have been fantastic had he taken this small issue on, signaling that he understands the exploitation that some communities experience because of this solar chicanery.
The solar industry generates more than 200,000 jobs across the nation. While Donald Trump might not be concerned about producing energy, he says he cares about protecting American workers.
That is why I am urging his administration and the CFPB to take steps to eliminate the bad actors in rooftop solar. Unless we do, people will catch on and walk away from solar. That will hurt our economy and impair the fight to beat climate change.
Hopefully these concerns are enough for the new administration to act.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available at www.juliannemalveaux.com.