Solar panels are installed on the roof of the Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Virginia on May 17, 2021 ( AFP / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

Solar 'stimulus' offers mislead Facebook users

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Video clips shared on Facebook offer thousands of dollars for solar panel installation through a "sunshine program" from the US government. But the ads are not linked to any federal or state entity, they do not guarantee economic assistance, and the US Department of Energy and a consumer organization caution against them.

"Last Day to Claim Offer... Millions of Homeowners Are Getting Paid $8517 From the Federal Government Thanks To The 'Sunshine Program,'" says the caption on a video in an August 2, 2022 Facebook post, which links to a website promoting a quiz. "Fill Out The Form Below To Get Your $8517 Today."

Screenshot taken August 10, 2022 of a video on Facebook

AFP found several iterations of the claim that link to websites with different names: "Solar Incentives Today," "Solar Rebate," "Solar Saver USA," "Solar Saver Program," "Smart Solar Savings" and "Solar Pro Quiz." Some videos promote a federal "solar stimulus program."

But the posts, which have gathered hundreds of thousands of views, mislead on what they offer.

AFP reviewed the legal terms of the sites promoted on Facebook. None are affiliated with the federal government, despite the claims in the ads.

There are also inconsistencies between what the posts advertise and what the websites disclose in their terms and conditions -- a common pattern of phishing scams. "Solar Incentives Today" and "Solar Rebate," for example, both appear under different names and brand themselves as insurance services.

John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League, told AFP the ads are suspicious.

"At best, the only thing that consumers who take these quizzes are likely to get is a lot of annoying pitches from people who want to sell you solar panels," he said. "At worst, consumers who take these 'quizzes' and share sensitive information like their zip code, email address, and credit score could be increasing their risk of identity fraud."

Energy and security analyst Patricia Schouker agreed.

Charts showing the decline in solar panels prices in the United States in the decade to 2020 and world production of solar panels by country ( AFP / Jonathan WALTER, Anibal MAIZ CACERES)

"The links you provided are phishing links (per my cyber expertise and access)," she said. "Accessing these websites poses a risk to personal information and malicious intent to harm."

Solar panel tax credits and rebates supported by the US Energy Department do exist, she said, but "none give a person free solar panels and no-cost installation."

The federal government offers an investment tax credit for residential solar energy, according to the Energy Department. Eligible homeowners can claim a 26 percent credit for systems installed between 2020-2022, and 22 percent for installations in 2023.

Some states also offer tax credits for solar power systems, which the Energy Department says can complement federal incentives and rebates from electric utilities. Other initiatives, such as the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), help low-income households and small businesses pay for solar energy systems.

However, Becca Jones-Albertus, director of the Energy Department's Solar Energy Technologies Office, told AFP: "Consumers should be careful about offers that seem too good to be true, and can contact the Federal Trade Commission to report scams and other bad business practices."

Jones-Albertus recommended consulting the Energy Department's homeowner's guide, which she said helps "consumers navigate the process of going solar with information on how to find an installer, claim incentives, and answers to other common questions."

AFP has previously debunked other false and misleading claims about financial relief offers here, here and here.