CHOICE membership

Solar company installation/payment issues

The installation is complete, but not functioning, and the company is threatening legal action if we don’t pay. What recourse do we have? We have asked for more time, while we get our own electrician to assess the issues, but the threats of legal action continue.

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@Bonsai welcome to the Community.

Feel free to name the business if you wish, naming them may also help get more specific information about what steps you may be able to take.

ACL covers services that fail as well as goods.

If the installation was a failure you have recourse under the ACL for a few things including compensation. The following is from the ACCC on your ACL rights:

"A service has a major problem when:

  • it has a problem that would have stopped someone from buying it if they’d known about it
  • it is substantially unfit for its common purpose and can’t easily be fixed within a reasonable time
  • it does not meet the specific purpose you asked for and cannot easily be fixed within a reasonable time
  • it creates an unsafe situation."

“For a major problem with services you can cancel the contract and obtain a refund or seek compensation for the drop in value of your services provided compared to the price paid.”

"If the problem with a product or service is minor, you must accept a free repair if the business offers you one.

If the business fails to give you a free repair within a reasonable time or cannot fix your problem, you can:

  • get it done elsewhere and pass on the costs to the business
  • ask for a replacement
  • ask for a refund
  • recover compensation for the drop in value below the price paid."

While the last part refers to a minor fault the same rights apply to major faults.

There are steps you need to take and if a CHOICE member you can get advice in general terms from the CHOICE Help service. You can also read the advice from the ACCC in regards to this as well. I strongly recommend you do read the ACCC advice.

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Welcome to the community @Bonsai

That seems a new low in bad business behaviours. An installation is usually not delivered until it is installed and commissioned and a compliance certificate issued. They did supply a compliance certificate, didn’t they?

Have they given you any guidance beyond a demand for payment, toward resolving your operational problem? By not functioning do you mean it does not generate power, does not export power to the grid, or something else?

If it is not functioning and the fault is with the solar system why are you managing investigative actions? You should have a parts and labour warranty for an initial period, and then there is the Australian Consumer Law.

If it is not functional because of something external to the solar installation that you may be responsible for and their work, testing, commissioning, and compliance certificate is otherwise complete, they would be entitled to payment as their job is complete and they would be within their rights to demand payment and even send it for debt collection if there was an impasse.

If the problem was ‘with them’ and not ‘with me’, read your rights under the Australian Consumer Law and write a formal letter of complaint citing what you shopped for, what they sold you, what they installed, how it differs, why it is their responsibility it is not functioning (if that is the case) and be clear what you want from them and by when.

That being written, better advice depends on our understanding of the problem.

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Why?

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I think that’s the reason @Bonsai is getting their electrician to look at it so they can determine why??? @Bonsai just say it’s not functioning which may be their only way to express the problem at the moment? Hopefully @Bonsai wiil/may add more info if they can.

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Unless it has been inspected by whomever is your electricity supplier, it shouldn’t be connected to the grid.
Has it been inspected?

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Is that the issue, that it has been installed but yet to be ‘turned on’ as they haven’t yet received approval from the grid operator or their new meter has not been installed?

Too many guesses and agree with @syncretic, a little more information would useful to why it isn’t working…as it could be the installation, not yet connected etc.

If it is the installation/equipment, then @bonsai has the right to refuse final payment until the system is fully working. It would fall into a breach of contract as the contract would most likely have been for the installation and working PV system.

If it is not connected/allowed to be connected to the grid, @bonsai needs to look at his installation contract to see what it says in relation to the final payment. This may include payment on install even if grid connection hasn’t occurred. In such case, payment should be made.

It would also be useful why the company is chasing payment and the reasons they are giving as well. This might provide an insight to what is going on.

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Wow. I had no idea I would get this much help, so quickly, from this forum. There’s a longer back story here, and I’ll detail it more when I’m back at a keyboard. I suspect there’s been a bit of jiggery pokery going on here by perhaps both the installers and the retailer, but I can’t be sure until I have our regular electrician take a look and give me another opinion. More info to follow. Many thanks to all for your prompt responses.

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Possibly.
Interestingly, for our installs both our PV systems were left operating. Neither were inspected by our supplier (retailer or the service supplier Energex). The meters were upgraded to digital remote logging approx one month after the installer signed off on the final certificates and forwarded the required notices to Energex. The guys who came to replace the meters were simply concerned with ensuring the PV was isolated while they did the meter changeout. In both instances they were happy to explain how to read the meter and confirm that it was recording export.

For each install, using two different accredited installers, both took time to explain key details concerning operation and demonstrate that the systems installed were functioning correctly. Fortunately both were commissioned towards mid-day with no clouds to spoil the result.

Whether the systems were left turned on after commissioning or turned off till another day, I would not have objected to either. It would seem impossible for any installer to say the system supplied and installed was complete without being powered and proven! As per @TheBBG prior comment. I’d not complete payment without. I can also understand why or how many home owners may struggle with the technical aspects of a Solar PV install, hence relying on a third party (local electrician) to assess may be the way to go.

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Probably illegally, but it happens so often that I don’t think action is taken very often, if at all, on correctly done domestic installations.
There is a good reason for the inspection though, as there are some very dodgy operators out there in PV install world!

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True, but Qld seems happy to rely on the installers CEC certification and CEC low percentage audit policy. No one has been at any point in time to inspect either, one now nearly two years old. It says something about how the regulators and industry view each other.

I won’t distract from the current topic, by discussing how to choose reliable suppliers. Choice and Solar Quotes both have great guides.

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In contrast Vic seems to inspect every one, and the inspector has to sign off before a PV system is certified to connect to the grid. My installers were pretty good but my install was their first experience with a new model of the enphase, and they got something wrong as they installed according to the previous model. The inspector knocked it back at about 10AM and it was rectified by 2PM with all the paperwork being timely done in the next day. It has been operating no worries since Nov 2018.

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Thanks again to all for your thoughts.
Sunboost is the company involved and, up until this installation issue has occurred, they have been quite ok to deal with. A little persistent in their original sales pitch possibly, but ok.
We have recently had a new roof installed; old tile roof off, new colorbond roof on. During that process we removed the old 2.1 kw system (and the inverter) and sought out replacement options. We used Finn Peacock’s ‘Solar Quotes’ website.
We had one electrical issue during the roofing process, wherein one run of a lighting circuit was pinched (apparently) to the point where it was tripping the breaker in our switchboard. That fault was rectified, and all was working well prior to the new 6.5 (approx) kw system being installed by a local team engaged by Sunboost.

On the installation day all seemed to go well. The job was completed, the system was turned on and was working, and the installers left, saying that the local supplier (or the metering company) or somebody (I’m a little vague on exactly what was said) would be notified so that the metering could be adjusted or switched on to accommodate the new system. The system was left switched on. The meter in our board was last updated, to a smart meter I believe, in 2017. I’ve since had that date and update confirmed by Ausgrid, who also confirmed that it was set for net metering. Ausgrid also confirmed that they had indeed received and approved an application from Sunboost to install a replacement system at our residence, and that no paperwork was pending or outstanding.
Shortly after the installers left on that day, we switched on one light on the circuit that had previously been problematic, and the that tripped the breaker associated with that circuit. Any other light on that circuit also tripped the circuit; the solar system was still functioning during this testing process. i called the installer, and (to his credit) he returned later that afternoon and worked into the evening trying to resolve the problem.
He removed several light switches (all duly replaced later) trying to locate the source of the problem that was causing the light circuit to trip out, without success. He worked on the back of the switchboard, again trying to locate the source of the fault. He seemed to be saying that he was detecting current flowing in the earth wires, several of them. He worked very hard on the issue, from what I could see, and was trying to be systematic and thorough, but could not determine the source of the problem. In the end, when we were about to give up, he disconnected the earth wire(s) above the new inverter; I’m not sure what they’re actually connected to, but they were the new ones associated with the install (there are two sets of 10 new panels on our roof). As soon as he did that, the problem went away, and the light circuit worked properly. He was very pleased that he’d located the issue, but not pleased that he would have to return with his team later in the week to rectify it. At that point the solar system was left ‘off’ and we awaited their return. That was Tuesday 7th July, and they subsequently returned on the afternoon of Friday 10th.

On Friday the 10th we also asked them to straighten one set of panels; people had commented that from the street they could see the panels were askew; which they did.

They also worked to rectify the electrical issue, for some time, but eventually left, with the solar system ‘Off’, informing me that once I removed the plaster board ceiling from within our lounge room and engaged them to run new light circuit cables free of the roof battens that the solar system would then be able to be turned on and function correctly. With no other choice apparent to me, I accepted this proposal. Our light circuits were all working, but it appeared our solar system was not.

The people from Sunboost started calling me that evening, wanting their full payment. i kept saying that we would pay in full, as soon as the system was working. Sunboost people kept saying that the solar system would not work until we had paid in full and the associated ‘paperwork’ could be processed with our electrical supplier. We felt that we were cornered; the solar system was not working, and there was no prospect of it working until we paid in full

I called Ausgrid and AGL for advice. Ausgrid confirmed for me that they had received and approved an application for an upgraded solar system installation at our property. AGL also confirmed that they were not awaiting any paperwork in relation to the new install. We couldn’t see any reason why the Sunboost installer shouldn’t be able to demonstrate to us that the system would at least work, even if our light circuit was faulty. At least if we could be confident that once the apparent light circuit issue was resolved then the solar system would function correctly, we could pay in good faith.

Since then (two day ago) we’ve received at least emails from Dean at Sunboost, demanding an extra $399 late payment fee, and threatening legal action if we don’t comply. On all occasions that we were asked to pay we have stressed that we are more than happy to pay, as soon as the problems are resolved and we can see that the new solar system is functioning as promised.

Today is Sunday, and our electrician has kindly offered to come and look at the issues today. We feel that we need his second opinion before we proceed any further. Hopefully he can tell us for certain if we have genuine issue with our light circuit that we need to resolve separately. If that is the case, we will pay Sunboost, then call back the solar installer to turn on the system.

It’s all very confusing.

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Good luck to them if they think that they can legally get paid a late payment fee for a defective product?

I would have been speaking to them in far less friendly terms.

Our next door neighbour bought an identical solar & battery system to ours from the same supplier, Solenergy Group in Brisbane, and when it had a problem after installation, they kept contacting him for payment but he gave them short shrift until it was resolved some weeks later.

Before our system was installed, they had the temerity to email us the invoice on a Sunday, days before the scheduled install date which they postponed anyway, and it was stated that the system would not be connected prior to payment in full.

Once the system is installed, they have no way of preventing it being made operational as even if the installer does not leave it turned on, the owner can simply switch it on.

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When you have a more concise report from your electrician the way forward as you suggest should be clearer.

You have considered the possibility the tripping of the lighting circuit may not be due to the work by the solar installer. That they came back to your home and spent time diagnosing a fault which was not with their work sounds generous. There is a possibility they subsequently disconnected the solar PV to ensure the observed Lighting circuit fault was not impacting the solar PV system.

There remains a possibility there is a genuine fault with your lighting circuit. Hopefully your electrician can resolve that issue. It’s important to get this done ASAP and consider there may be an unsafe condition with that circuit.

Not jumping to conclusions: (Facts insufficient, it is worth keeping an open mind before apportioning blame).
A recent roof replacement from tiled to metal, and evidence of one instance of cable damage. There may be another. The new solar PV install will have made a physical earth connection/s to the mounting frames per standard requirements and hence roofing iron. It sounds like the PV installer has decommissioned the PV and disconnected the earthing to the panel frames. This suggests the lighting circuit could have a fault that is causing current leakage through your roof sheeting. If that is the type of problem an electrician should be able to identify the fault, and remedy. If the roof space is difficult to access it may take some time. Perhaps the Solar PV installer has done the right thing? The system was demonstrated as functioning correctly. Alternately the installer could have left the PV operational and isolated the lighting circuit for some other to rectify.

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It is a messy problem with multifaceted maybe’s between the new roof, lighting pinch, and aspects already noted.

It reads as Sunboost has gone a good way to working toward your satisfaction. Issues are the status of your system, but I presume you would like to preserve a business relationship should you need warranty or other service on the PV system.

On balance, it seems more probable the problem is ‘with you’ than ‘with them’.

If the sparky does not resolve the actual fault today I am inclined to suggest ringing Sunboost, asking them to rescind the late fee and offering to pay say 75% immediately with the balance as soon as the fault is identified as ‘yours’ not ‘theirs’ as a way to work it out. If that is rejected pay their bill but ask for a written statement they will get your system commissioned within X days of your working through your wiring problem.

If the sparky finds the issue is something the installers did and it is ‘with them’, you could claim the sparky costs via the ACL.

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This is a very reasonable approach and hopefully satisfies all parties to getting the matter resolved.

Sunboost may now also believe that the problem may not be theirs to resolve…and their installer/electrician has isolated the PV system to ensure that if something happens (electric shock or worse), the finger is not pointed at the PV installation or Sunboost. They may be protecting their long reputation which may also be seen as reasonable.

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