Madisonville couple burned by expensive solar panel loan

MADISONVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A Monroe County couple is finally getting their home’s expensive solar panel system working. It took nearly four months for Ernie and Sharon Villalobos to turn on their solar unit despite numerous phone calls for help.

Ernie said it took technicians about six weeks to install 28 solar panels on the back roof of his Madisonville home and hook up other sophisticated energy-saving equipment. Installation was completed in February, but Ernie said they were still waiting for them to be turned on. On May 27, the meter at Ernie’s house showed that no solar power was being generated.

“The solar panels are still not on, I pay two bills over $500 a month,” Sharon said.

The installer is Design 1 Solar. Their main office is in Bristol, Tennessee.

“They said it would lower our electricity bill to the power company and it would be cheaper in the long run,” Ernie said.

Ernie said the system failed its first inspection and then passed its second. Despite abundant sunshine, no solar power was ever generated. So, months ago, the couple reached out to Design 1 Solar for help.

“I called them two or three times a day, they don’t call me back,” Sharon said.

The couple were promised a refund check to pay most of the installments, but never received a real check after the installation.

“It would pay the first 24 to 26 installments. But then I never received the check after the solar panels were installed,” Sharon said.

The couple took out a loan from Mosaic, a leading solar loan provider. Their February bill showed a withdrawal of $276 with a loan balance of $50,000. Remember that at the time, no electricity was provided by solar panels.

Then, in March, another $276 is disbursed on their loan, but the balance is now $84,000. So Sharon called the loan company, Mosaic.

“Then they said they had to withdraw their money. Whose money? I don’t understand what’s going on and I can’t get an answer from anyone,” Sharon said.

Sharon kept notes on the transactions with the solar company and the loan provider.

“And they told us they would send us documents from Mosaic and Design 1 because everything was signed on an iPad by the seller. We didn’t receive anything,” Sharon said.

6 On Your Side sent a detailed message to Design 1 Solar on May 27. A few days later, the CEO of the company sent the following directives: “Call the couple, arrange a site visit, send this rebate check, confirm the inspections, check the electric company interconnect and turn on the system.

On June 14, after months of waiting, the solar meter no longer shows zero, it is now generating clean energy – plus, this discount has arrived.

“I got it in the mail on Saturday after eight months,” Sharon said.

Also, after eight months, a hard copy of the loan arrived. Sharon said she had never seen the details before and they were never explained.

“It says 16 payments of $276.12,” Sharon said. “Then it goes to $375.73 per month for 281 payments and one payment of $374.72. That’s almost double what I pay for electricity.

Since January, when the system was down, she paid the loan company $276.12. She did the math and her total payment to Ft. Loudoun Electric last year was $2,200. But in a few years, she’ll be paying Mosaic $4,500 a year on the loan.

“There is no way that 28 solar panels would be worth $84,000,” Sharon said.

The couple’s home system comes with free service for the life of the unit. Plus, there’s a service promise from Design 1, with a guarantee that if the family doesn’t save on their bill in the first two years, Design One will issue a check for $500.

About their loan and the cost of the system, the Villalobos family hope to get some of their questions answered.

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