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Warning issued about solar-wind company, Power4Home Pro

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is warning consumers about energy savings claims from Power4Home Pro, a solar and wind energy manufacturing company. The company - which claims a Minnesota address, but appears to be headquartered elsewhere - sells DVDs that purportedly provide instructions on how to build and install energy-saving solar panels and windmills at home. The Power4Home System 2.0 DVD sells for $49 plus a $7.99 charge. However, a BBB review of the company's materials revealed the same information is available on the Internet - for free.

"Power4Home Pro makes their materials sound like fool-proof investments, but our investigation found that identical information was available for free online," stated Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. "We also dispute the highly questionable claims that their offer is "worth 10 times the investment" and can "eliminate your power bill forever."

The BBB secret-shopped Power4Home Pro, and purchased their "system" for what's advertised as a limited time offer of $57.96 - information Power4Home Pro claims is worth more than $700. The company sent a DVD with step-by-step instructions and all other information was delivered in the form of PDF files. The company's website claims that anyone with basic technical knowledge could construct the panels and windmills, and suggests that the solar panel project could be completed by a father and son in a single weekend. However, the video instructions contained multiple caveats and warnings that only "professionals" and qualified personnel" should work with electricity, and "children should not be allowed near this equipment."

Power4Home Pro currently has a BBB rating of F on a scale of A+ to F. The BBB has processed 41 complaints against the company, with customers generally reporting delays in receiving - or problems accessing - their materials and/or trying to receive refunds. Though the company promises a "100 percent money back customer satisfaction guarantee," many consumers have reported difficulty obtaining refunds from Power4Home Pro. The company has responded to a majority of their complaints, generally by promising to ship materials or provide refunds.

The BBB shopper was able to secure a refund only after sending the company numerous emails and finally threatening to go to the Attorney General. Since providing the company their email address, the BBB secret shopper has since received an influx of similar 'energy saving' offers.

The BBB offers consumers the following guidelines for investing in energy-saving options:

Determine if solar energy is right for you.

Due to the high costs associated with the initial investment of solar power, it is important to conduct a self energy audit to determine if solar energy is right for you. Usually, if your monthly bill is less than $100, consider other ways to save energy that cost less.

Consider all the costs associated with solar energy.

Ask about all the costs associated with the maintenance and upkeep of the system. Determine if the benefits and savings outweigh the costs over the long run.

Stay informed about state and federal incentive programs.

Be sure to understand the terms and conditions of the incentive programs and conduct your own research prior to signing a contract with an installer. For the latest information on federal programs, visit . At the state level, contact the Commerce Department.

Be cautious of installers that promise no out-of-pocket costs prior to reviewing your specific situation.

Be leery if an installer suggests obtaining credit for the full amount of the system even though they are promising very low or no costs due to rebates.

Make sure the roof of your home is equipped to sustain a solar panel system.

Even though a properly installed solar system will not damage your roof, make sure your roof is in good condition before you begin the installation to avoid any future problems.

Understand how your solar energy works.

You can take full advantage of the benefits in solar energy once you know how it works. For instance, panels facing south with no shade obstructions receive maximum exposure during the middle part of the day (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and therefore provide the greatest percent of energy. Significant savings occur when you have excess energy that is not consumed by your household. This excess energy can then be credited to your utility bill saving you money.