Montreal

'It's a big scam': Quebec company accused of fleecing customers buying solar panels

Promising to all but eliminate your hydro bill, a solar panel company's sales pitch may be too good to be true.

Hydro-Québec says savings promised by solar company are virtually impossible

André St-Pierre installed 10 solar panels on his roof. He was promised savings of nearly $2,000 per year. (Radio-Canada)

A solar-panel company based in Longueuil is being accused of misleading customers with exaggerated claims about what they will save on their energy bill.  

Lanaudière resident André St-Pierre and Granby resident Francis Gareau both purchased solar panels after being visited by a representative from Rénovations et constructions Gauthier et Péloquin.

In both cases, the representative dazzled them with huge potential savings on their electricity bills.

St-Pierre said he was promised annual savings of nearly $2,000 if he purchased 10 solar panels and a heat pump — at a cost of $23,000, paid through a financing plan.

"With savings of $1,784 per year, the investment was worth it," said St-Pierre.

Francis Gareau was told he would cut 70 per cent of his hydro bill by installing 15 solar panels on his roof — but after a costly installation he says he's only saving $5 every month. (Radio-Canada)

Gareau said he was promised a 70 per cent reduction in his Hydro-Québec bill if he bought 15 solar panels and a heat pump. That cost him $36,000 through a 10-year financing plan.

In both cases, the panels did not deliver the promised savings. According to Gareau, his savings amounted to about $5 per month.

"It's a big scam," he said.

Exaggerations, omissions and lies

Radio-Canada's consumer affairs program La facture met with a sales representative linked to the company to verify such promises were being made to potential customers. The conversation was recorded with hidden cameras.

After calling Rénovations et constructions Gauthier et Péloquin, La facture was transferred to Regroupement Québec Vert — an organization that appears to only exist on Facebook.

When the representative arrived, he suggested installing 20 panels for annual electricity savings of $1,200.

But a spokesperson for Hydro-Québec, Louis-Olivier Batty, said achieving energy savings of that scale is virtually impossible for most buildings.

Francis Gareau is paying $36,000 over 10 years for 15 solar panels and a heat pump. (Radio-Canada)

According to the sales representative recorded by La facture, the 20 solar panels would produce 13,000 to 14,000 kilowatt hours per year.

Hydro-Québec estimates the panels would produce about half that much electricity.

"It's dishonest," Batty said of the sales pitch, since customers will not see the savings they are being promised.

Hydro-Québec has created an online calculator to help inform consumers about potential energy savings from home solar panels.

The head of a non-profit organization promoting the use of renewable energy said it's frustrating to hear of a company exploiting those seeking to lower their energy costs.

"People are ready to listen to anyone to not pay Hydro-Québec," said Énergie solaire Québec president Patrick Goulet, who also confirmed the utility's estimate of a solar panel's energy output.

Hydro-Québec spokesperson Louis-Olivier Batty says consumers are being promised unrealistic electricity savings by Regroupement Québec Vert — an organization that appears to only exist on Facebook. (Radio-Canada)

The Regroupement Québec Vert representative insisted to the undercover Radio-Canada journalists that he was not inflating the capacity of the solar panels.

Pitch suggests spike in hydro rates coming

The representative also suggested that Hydro-Québec's electricity rates were set to rise at unprecedented levels.

He estimated a five-per-cent increase for each of the next 10 years. Next year, Hydro-Québec is asking for a 0.8 per cent rate increase from the province's energy authority — far from the hike predicted by the solar panel salesman.

Hydro-Québec is, for now, discouraging the use of solar panels by consumers, a view echoed by industry experts. 

They argue it does not make financial sense, currently, to produce solar electricity in a residence given current hydro rates.

"For a new house, it might be worth it when integrating the cost into the home mortgage," said Goulet.

Regroupement Québec Vert

Regroupement Québec Vert cannot be found in Quebec's business registry and its only online footprint appears to be on Facebook.

Behind that Facebook page is a call centre selling solar panels and heat pumps, which is owned by Rénovations et constructions Gauthier et Péloquin president Jean-Maxime Péloquin, according to La facture.

That call centre is the subject of 87 complaints, 18 cease-and-desist orders and a warning from Quebec's Office of Consumer Protection.

Péloquin also owns another business, Hydro-Révolution, which specializes in heat pumps. That business and its representatives were ordered to pay more than $94,000 in fines between 2013 and 2015 for making false or misleading claims.

While he initially agreed to an interview with La facture, Péloquin later declined citing the advice of his lawyer.

Based on a report by La facture's François Dallaire.

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