On May 28, 2021, new solar consumer protection regulations (PDF) went into effect and were published in the State Register.
The South Carolina Energy Freedom Act (Act 62) directed the ORS to develop consumer protection regulations for the leasing of renewable energy generation facilities. Act 62 also directed the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs to develop consumer protection regulations for the sale of renewable energy generation facilities.
These regulations help to protect consumers by requiring leasing company to provide appropriate disclosures and by creating a formal process to resolve complaints.
Requirements for Information in Lease Agreements
By requiring lease agreements to include certain information, the consumers are provided with the necessary information to make informed decisions when considering the financial investment to lease renewable energy generation facilities.
Leases must include:
- the contact information for the ORS Consumer Services department,
- copies of any applicable warranties,
- a notice that utility incentives and rates may change during the lease period, and
- clear explanations of all payments, interest, and fees that will be paid under the terms of the lease.
Requirements for Consumer Protection and Education
All marketing materials used by lease companies in South Carolina must include:
- the certificate number issued by the ORS,
- the State Energy Office’s solar consumer information website address, and
- the ORS telephone number and e-mail address for consumer complaints.
Formal Complaint Process
The regulations also formalize the complaint process to assist consumers with disputes arising from lease agreements. If the consumer is not satisfied with the leasing company’s actions to remedy the complaint, the consumer may request an investigation by the ORS. This complaint process includes a(n):
- investigation of alleged violations,
- notice of violations,
- response to notice of violation,
- request for review of decision, and
- appeal of agency action.
If a consumer has a complaint about a leasing company, they should follow the steps to file a formal complaint/inquiry.
Depending on the nature of the violation, the ORS has the authority to resolve complaints or leasing company non-compliance with the regulations through a variety of remedies and penalties such as:
- voiding the lease agreement,
- monetary fines assessed on the leasing company, or
- suspension of the leasing company’s operations.