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IT MATTERS TO MARIA – Solar nightmare

Maria Bradshaw

IT MATTERS TO MARIA – Solar nightmare

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WHEN?Melvin and Jean Devonish decided to invest in an off-grid solar electric system, they were hoping to have their electricity bill considerably reduced or totally eliminated.
But almost a year after they paid Solar Energy Innovations Inc. – a  subsidiary of Simmons Electrical – $43 500 to have the system installed at their St Philip home, they are furious and upset that the system is not working as it was promoted to them.
In fact, at 6 p.m. sharp they have to resort back to Barbados Light & Power supply because the power in the batteries goes down and can no longer provide them with the power needed to power their home.
An angry Devonish said he was at his wits’ end and totally frustrated as he accused the company of failing to address the many issues which he was experiencing with their system.
He explained that he was provided with a 5 000-watt continuous power, with a 7 500-watt 30-minute surge, off-grid solar electric system. The system was supposed to be fully integrated and consist of solar modules, batteries, DC?combiner, disconnect switches, as well as other items.
He said when the installation took place last August the system was not working and both the batteries and the solar panels were increased.
“As we went along it still was not working and they blamed it on the weather conditions,” he said.
He added that when the system continued to fail to provide the required power, he was informed by the company that the problem was due to the wiring in his house.
“I was informed that my house needed rewiring. I?brought in an electrician who spent several days testing and examining the wiring at my home and he informed me that nothing was wrong with my electrical system. But I wanted to do everything they asked me to do to get the system working, so I?spent $3 000 to have the house rewired.”
But Devonish pointed out that when the Government Electrical Engineering Department visited his house for an inspection, they failed the system and informed him that the panel installed by Solar Innovations was connected incorrectly.
“I?contacted Mr Simmons [managing director] and he said he would not rectify it because his company had not rewired my house,” Devonish related, as he pointed out that he was perplexed by the response since the panel was installed by the company and had nothing to do with the rewiring of his home.
The man said he also spent over $8 000 to have two wind turbines installed, hoping that it would help the situation, but there was still no improvement.
The couple, who returned to Barbados six years ago to enjoy their retirement after living for several years in the United States, said they were dissatisfied with how they have been treated by the company.
“We were told to retain our utility supply from Light & Power just in case of emergency and that we would only have to pay the customer service of $10 a month,” Devonish said as he produced a contract he signed with the company, which stated: “You do not pay another power bill. All future payments go towards the repayment of the solar cost. The solar system you install pays for itself. Your expensive appliances and electronic equipment will work at the correct frequency of 60 hertz and will therefore give more years of service, you will never suffer any blackouts from the grid, you will be insulated from future rate increases and you will never suffer from the ever-rising fuel clause adjustment”.
While their light bill, which used to be in the region of $467 has been cut in half, Devonish charged that this provided him with no comfort since he expected to be only paying the customer service payment of $10.
“Simmons Electrical told me that they will not leave until my system was properly working and I believed them. Now they wouldn’t even talk to me. They do not take my calls anymore. It is a nightmare,” he said.
He said he has filed a complaint with the Fair Trading Commission and even got his lawyers to write the company, but up to this day he has received no positive response from the company.
In addition, Devonish said he was now in contact with two other customers who had invested in the same system and were going through the same power horrors as he was.
One of them, Denis Best, said he was one of the first persons to have the off-grid system installed by Solar Innovations.
“Up to this day I can’t get it off-grid. I?still have to resort to Light & Power and my light bill is still the same as before I?had the system,” said Best, who added that he regretted the investment.
However, when contacted, Allan Simmons, managing director of Simmons Electrical, said the matter between his company and Devonish was a legal issue.
“I?am trying to work with Mr Devonish as long as he is willing to work with us within the confines of the contract,” he said.
 He said the issue was a very “sensitive” one and accused Devonish of being an “unreasonable customer”.
Asked why the system was going down at sunset, Simmons stated:?“If we give you a solar system of 6 kilowatts and you use it up it will have to be replenished”.
He charged that Devonish “does not understand the system”, adding “it is a lifestyle change”.
He said the company “threatened” to take back the system and repay Devonish in cash, but “he didn’t go for that”.

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