Solar panel customer says company took his money, abandoned project

Local crew makes repairs, improvements just in time for Christmas

OCOEE, Fla. – Edward Hardy, of Ocoee, is getting an early Christmas gift this year.

It is all thanks to a Central Florida company that stepped in to help after an out-of-state solar company left Hardy high and dry.

Workers with 3D Energy spent the past week completing the installation of the solar panel system that Code Green Solar left behind.

Records show Code Green installed the solar panels without getting permits approved with the city of Ocoee.

We checked and Hardy is one of many unhappy customers who say Code Green Solar took their money and failed to complete the projects it was hired to do.

News 6 started investigating Code Green Solar in September and discovered workers at Code Green Solar's Orlando offices stopped showing up in June. They failed to tell their customers the company was at the center of a federal investigation.

Federal court records show Code Green's owner, Charles Kartsaklis, recently filed for bankruptcy protection, and has a hearing scheduled for next week.

In November, Code Green Solar was on the losing end of two federal lawsuits, putting it on the hook for more than $15 million.

Hardy said he paid Code Green Solar $5,000 up front and then financed the additional $20,000 for a warrantied system.

He said he now wonders if the warranty even applies.

Despite all the hassles, Hardy feels he's one of the lucky ones.

"I'm probably doing better than most of the people," Hardy said. "News 6 got results -- great results."

Hardy said once News 6 stepped in, Dividend – the finance company holding his loan – not only suspended his payments, but hired a brand-new crew to fix and finish the job Code Green Solar left abandoned.

"Right now, we're just putting all the final touches on everything," said David Bittle, with 3D Energy. "We even put in a little extra."

Bittle said his crew was able to use all the hardware, all the panels and all the wiring left behind.

However, he said they did have to draw up entirely new plans, get new permits and reinstall every single solar panel to make it safer to get around.

Bittle said a lot of his business involves fixing other people's problems, but even he was floored that Hardy's solar panels were installed before the city permits were even approved.

"Unfortunately, that happens a lot," Bittle said. "I guess it's greed, it's the money. They want to hurry up and get it done. They don't care if the permit is available."

Hardy said now he can look forward to future savings, since his solar system is finally up and running and ready to be switched over just in time for the holidays.

"It's wonderful," Hardy said. "It looks great, and these guys have been nothing but professionals. I'm happy. I'm very happy."

So what can you do to determine if the solar company you pick is reputable and licensed in the state?

Here are some tips from the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association when conducting contractor interviews:

  • Interview at least two contractors. Three is better.
  • Ask for at least five references in your area that you can speak to.
  • Research contractors through the Better Business Bureau, Angie's List, etc.
  • Verify the contractor's license at www.myfloridalicense.com. A licensed solar company will have its license number on the contract, and it should begin with "CVC" if they are licensed to do solar.
  • Ask for a copy of the general liability and workers compensation insurance.
  • Require the contractor to include in the contract that no "second" or blemished materials will be used on your project.
  • Research the solar products proposed on the bids.
  • Double-check the warranties on your materials and make sure you get your installation warranty in writing.
  • Make sure your project is permitted BEFORE construction begins.
  • Before you make a final payment, do an inspection on the system and make sure the materials and quantity on your contract match the installation.
  • Ask for a certificate of completion or approved inspection results from the jurisdiction issuing the permit.
  • For more information or questions, contact www.flaseia.org.