More reasons to steer clear of ‘rent a roof’ solar electricity deals

We’ve long been wary of the idea that having solar panels put on top of your house is a good idea.

When the huge subsidy payments were first introduced we could see how putting in panels might make sense if you paid for them yourself. If you did, you would see a fall in your energy bills and you would get to sell energy you couldn’t use back to the grid. The whole thing would have made you a tax-free and inflation-linked return of about 10% a year.

However, we really couldn’t see how it would make much sense if you used one of the rent-a-roof companies to put a panel up for you. 

Sure, you’d save something in the region of £70 a year on your bills. But in return for that, you’d have to put up with the hassle of having the panels fitted and having equipment owned by someone else on your roof for as long as 25 years, which could reduce the resale value of your house and irritate your neighbours. Not worth it at all.

But it turns out that when we said we thought it might affect the resale value of a home, we hadn’t even begun to realise the extent of the potential problem.

Having panels on your roof that are owned by an investment company might not just hit the value of your home: it might mean you can’t sell it at all. A story on the front of the Guardian Money section this week points to the sad story of John and Rebecca Welton.

The couple had panels installed on their roof in December 2011 by a firm called My Energy Station. MES was to pay for the panels and harvest the astonishingly generous feed-in tariffs they would provide. The Weltons were promised free electricity from the panels during daylight hours (apparently around £150 worth). I wouldn’t have thought that much of a deal, but it clearly made some sense to them – they were even conscientious enough to check with their mortgage provider (RBS) to make sure it was OK. RBS said it was, and so did their mortgage adviser.
Then they tried to remortgage on to a cheaper deal with the Skipton Building Society. No go. Skipton told their broker it won’t offer mortgages on houses with a solar lease in place. They tried the Nationwide. Same story there. And it seems everywhere else.

They can, of course, stay with RBS, but that means taking their chances on the bank’s standard variable rate, something that is bound to cost them more than £150 a year as interest rates start to rise.

The whole thing, says John Welton, “has turned out to be a nightmare.” And a very expensive one at that: according to a representative of My Energy Station, the couple can buy out the scheme for £15,000, something which would solve the problem. Perhaps it would, but I can’t help but think that if the Weltons had had £15,000 to spare in the first place, they would have been unlikely to hand over the rights to their roof and the sun above it for 25 years for a mere £150.

Last Thursday, I got two phone calls in a row from a very aggressive solar sales person. I hung up on him in the end. I suspect everyone else should do the same.