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  • Lorianna Kastrop

Residential Solar Installation — A Cautionary True Story  

By Lorianna Kastrop, VP/CFO, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

This is the most difficult blog that I’ve written, but I think it is important to share the bad experiences of residential construction as well as the good ones, so that our clients are well-informed. We hope to help you avoid the same problem.

As you may have read in our blog post “Installing a Solar Power System for New Residential Construction” posted on August 2, 2021, we wrote that we received bids from three companies for a system with solar panels and battery for an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) at our own home. In this case, we were the clients, as well as the architectural firm for the project. We did our due diligence and believed that we made a good choice when we picked SunPower to install our solar system. We no longer believe that. We will NOT recommend SunPower to our clients in the future. The following is the true story of what we experienced as customers of that company and the outcome.

In our previous blog article, we wrote that SunPower asked us to provide our billings from Pacific Gas & Electric to determine the size of our new solar system. We explained repeatedly that the ADU is new detached construction with a separate electrical meter and address. Therefore, there were no energy use records from a prior period. SunPower insisted that they needed the records for the past year as part of their process and that it was just a formality. There was no reason that this information was necessary for our ADU, and we should have refused to provide it. That is the main takeaway of this entire blog. Do not, I repeat, do not provide the solar company with records from your main house if you are building a new detached ADU!

From that time on, the paperwork and application for service interconnection between our ADU and PG&E was handled incorrectly by SunPower. To be fair, except for forgetting to install the emergency cut-off required by the Fire Department, SunPower did a good and prompt installation of the solar panels and battery system.

What SunPower did incorrectly, and repeatedly, was the paperwork for PG&E. When I was asked to sign the document, I refused because it was all wrong and did not correctly reference the ADU. Apparently, the “back office” administrative team just did not understand the situation, and they dropped the ball on the paperwork. The application to PG&E was not made in a prompt fashion.

The ADU had power being produced by the solar panels and stored in the battery. Everything was working by late April 2021, and we paid the initial fee of $9,752.00 which was due upon completion of the installation.

We could not yet rent out the ADU because the system was not connected to the power grid. PG&E warned us that could result in damage to our system. We were forced to shut everything down until the paperwork was corrected and an authorization provided by PG&E. A SunPower technician came out on September 13th to shut down the solar system until we had an interconnection agreement with PG&E.

After dozens of back-and-forth emails with SunPower, we asked for help from Energy Pal, the broker who had connected us with SunPower in the first place. On September 3, 2021, we received an email from Carlene Guishard at Energy Pal that they had referred our concerns about the interconnection with PG&E to a supervisor at SunPower named Ken Melton. Ken did contact us, and we emailed him many times. A small sample of the emails are listed below. (This is not a complete list.)

I called PG&E Solar Department to find out the exact Energy Service Identification Number (ESAID), and meter number that were assigned to the ADU. PG&E was very helpful each time I called. I asked PG&E if I could fill out the paperwork instead of SunPower. PG&E said no, it needed to be done by the solar company.

I gave the information from PG&E to Ken by email. On September 17th I was sent a “revised” Interconnection Agreement, that still referenced the main house—utilizing the wrong square footage, etc. SunPower STILL didn’t understand that the ADU was a different building! I emailed Ken immediately, receiving no reply. (He did not provide us with a phone number to call.) On September 21, I emailed again, asking if he had received the previous message. I continued to receive automated reminders from SunPower to sign the document which had the incorrect information.

After several more email exchanges with Ken Melton, it was determined that SunPower had never even applied for solar service for our ADU to PG&E because they were waiting for an “Authorization” to act on our behalf, signed by me, the homeowner. (I had digitally signed that authorization back on May 24, 2021 but SunPower had overlooked it.)

On October 7, I called the PG&E electric grid interconnection department again to verify the information they needed, and I forwarded it to Ken by email the same day. PG&E had been waiting for the application from SunPower since April because they could see the new solar system had been operating at that time. We again requested installation of the disconnect switch.

On October 8, the installer came to install the disconnect switch and mistakenly put it on the main house, not the ADU. Mike Kastrop emailed SunPower that it needed to be removed and moved to the detached ADU.

Finally, Ken agreed to call me to work out the problems. We spoke on October 11th. On October 12, Ken confirmed by email that a SunPower installation would come on the 19th to remove the cutoff switch, patch the holes in the stucco, and install it on the ADU.

The emergency power shutoff switch for our ADU.

On October 13, the corrected interconnection agreement was completed and signed. I asked how quickly we could get our system back on, hoping to rent out the ADU by November 1st. On October 21, I called PG&E again and was told that since our account was not set up correctly by SunPower in February the account has been on “pending start status” with the PG&E billing department since then. They said there is a 4-month backlog, but the representative said that she would ask for it to be “expedited”. I wrote back to SunPower to complain about the further delay and to see if they could do anything to move the process faster.

On October 22 I forwarded a copy of the Authorization Agreement which I had signed back in May to SunPower to prove that was not the reason for the delays. I received no reply to that email.

On October 27 I called PG&E again and was told they had not yet received the interconnection agreement from SunPower. I called Carlene at Energy Pal to see if she could help us again by finding out why SunPower had not quickly sent the interconnection agreement to PG&E.

On November 3 SunPower sent a Reservation Request Form (SGIP) to Mike. It should have been sent to me, since I am the account holder of the energy account. It again listed our main house address not the ADU address, the wrong account i.d., the wrong service i.d., the wrong service agreement number, the wrong square footage, the wrong email address and the wrong phone number in the contact information. It seemed like we were back at square one with the paperwork.

Mike wrote to Ken Melton and copied the team at Energy Pal citing the “incompetence” of SunPower, our dissatisfaction, and asking for an immediate resolution. I wrote back to SunPower using bold letters to list all the information that needed to be corrected on the SGIP form. The SGIP form was one of the first forms that should have been initiated with PG&E at the beginning of the installation. According to PG&E, SunPower could have sent it in anytime between February and early June to avoid all the delays we experienced.

On November 10, Mike wrote to Ken Melton asking why we had not received a response and stating bluntly that the delay was costing us $3,000 per month in lost rent revenue. On the same day I wrote to Ken asking why I had not yet received a corrected SGIP form.

On November 11, this is the response from Ken Melton at SunPower: “The agent referenced the utility bill that was submitted at the beginning of your project. That utility bill is irrelevant to the interconnection and rebate process. I’m not certain why she defaulted to our normal process when we’ve all been involved with resolving the IA and PTO process for months. I did reach out to her and her manager to correct the form. Since the interconnection team has the authorization form, they’ve confirmed they can access your account to get the correct information for the SGIP form. We should have an updated copy of the form in your inbox today or a status update. Just to align here, this form is for your PG&E rebate, and it has no impact on your interconnection process for system activation. If you’ve received a copy of the utility bill for 28A Meadow Ln, please send it to me. It could help prevent further delays.”

On the same day, November 11, I replied “The utility bill we provided at the beginning of the project, was at SunPower’s insistence. We told everyone that our PG&E bill for the main house didn’t matter because the ADU was new construction. I was told by SunPower that I needed to provide it anyway as part of “the process”. Had I known how much trouble this would cause I would have refused SunPower’s request. We have not received any bill from PG&E for our ADU at 28A Meadow Lane. We desperately want to be connected to PG&E so that we can restart the solar system for the ADU and get it rented out.”

On November 18, I called PG&E again and they still had not received the interconnection agreement from SunPower. PG&E told me that the reason we are not yet billed for the ADU is that the new ADU account is in “pending” status awaiting the solar 1) Application, 2) Agreement & Authorization, 3) Interconnection Agreement, all of which are supposed to be submitted by SunPower. SunPower never did step 1 Application. I wrote all of this to SunPower and to Energy Pal. I stated that “I assume that steps 2&3 could be submitted immediately after PG&E receives the Application. I have verified this information at least three times with PG&E from three different people.”

On November 19 Ken Melton called me. He followed up with this in an email: “I shared the details we discussed and your project’s development with my manager, my Director, and both the Supervisor and Manager of the interconnection department. I’ve also requested someone that works and understands all the details with this process immediately take ownership and contact you to discuss and assist with resolving this issue. I shared the link you sent me as well.”

On November 30, I received a confirmation from PG&E that the Interconnection was received. PG&E approved the system to operate on December 8, 2021. SunPower came to the ADU on December 11th to complete the installation. I received a bill for the final payment from SunPower on December 14, with a due date of December 20. We paid the remaining $14,628.00 due by December 31. The ADU solar system was completed. We signed the Solar System Certificate of Acceptance document from SunPower on January 6, 2022.

The original contract to purchase the system from SunPower via Energy Pal was signed on January 21, 2021 and completed almost one year later. Since the system was physically ready and installed in late April, the paperwork problems, and the overlooked cut-off switch by SunPower caused about 9 months of delay in completion.

Epilogue: We listed the Casita for availability starting February 1, 2022, at $2,950. The day the listing went live online we received 5 responses. We deactivated the listing in 24 hours because it was rented to the first person who responded. SunPower’s delays from May-January cost us over $26,000 in rental income.

The moral of the story: Don’t let this happen to you. Never provide energy usage bills for new detached construction. Make sure that the solar company does not treat a detached unit as an addition to your main house. Make sure that the solar company submits your new application to your energy company (PG&E, or the utility in your area) promptly. Don’t sign anything from the solar company without reading it very carefully for errors. Call the solar department of your energy company early in the process to check that the solar company is completing the paperwork in a timely and correct way. For obvious reasons, we do not recommend SunPower.

Thanks for reading, and as always, we are Designing for Your Reality.

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