Freedom Forever Solar: The complete review and consumer guide

One of the fastest growing solar installers in the country, Freedom Forever operates in at least 24 states and is still expanding. Are they a good choice for your home solar project?

Freedom Forever is a relatively new company on the solar installation scene, but it has grown very quickly, reaching 6th place on the Solar Power World list of residential solar installers. In the most recent year, Freedom Forever installed 92 megawatts of solar.

The company operates in most of the major solar markets in the US and employs over 1,700 people. If you’re looking for a solar installer for your home, there’s a good chance that you’ve come across their name.

However, because of their partnerships and dealer model, it might not always be obvious to consumers that Freedom Forever is doing the installation work. This can also make consumer research more complicated: if one company is doing the sales but Freedom Forever is actually doing the installation, you really should be looking at reviews for both companies.

This article will dive into this company in detail. It doesn’t make a specific recommendation of whether or not you should use Freedom Forever to install your solar panels, but will hopefully help you make the right decision.

Freedom Forever: company basics

(Right off the bat: Freedom Forever should not be confused with Freedom Solar, a SunPower dealer that works in Texas, Colorado, and Florida.)

Freedom Forever is a privately-held company based in Temecula, CA and was started in 2011. It currently operates in 24 states and is expanding to several more. According to Solar Power World, Freedom Forever has installed 212,524 kW of solar panels since it was founded. For context, the average home solar system is 6.4 kW in size. If their average installation size was 6.4 kW, that would amount to more than 33,000 systems.

While the company does technically operate in many states, in some cases their presence in a state is perfunctory, such as Georgia where they installed only 9 kW of solar last year - perhaps just a single system.

These are their top states for installations (according to data from Solar Power World):

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Texas
  • Utah

They don’t install in a couple major solar markets - notably New York and Virginia - but their website says they’re expanding to them soon.

Independent Authorized Dealers: when another company is selling Freedom Forever installations

One of the strategies that Freedom Forever has used to grow so rapidly is to recruit other companies as sales agents. Freedom Forever calls these Independent Authorized Dealers.

From the point of view of the installer, most of the work of a home solar installation isn’t in the physical work of installing panels and wires in homes, which usually only takes a day or two. Instead, it’s all the other things such as permits, paperwork, marketing, and sales. By using an authorized dealer model, Freedom Forever is able to expand its footprint without having to worry about opening offices, hiring, marketing or any of the other things that go along with it.

While this has helped the company to grow rapidly, it has a couple potential pitfalls for consumers. One of the biggest challenges for any company using independent dealers is to ensure consistent quality control. Dealers are independent agents and not direct employees of the parent company. This can make it harder to enforce standards, especially when it comes to codes of ethics.

The challenge of maintaining a high quality independent dealer network can be found in diverse industries, from financial advisors to tractors.

The solar industry, especially when it comes to door-to-door sales, does have some history of using aggressive or misleading sales practices to help close a sale. The practice of using salespeople that are independent from the parent company can make it harder to enforce standards that are meant to avoid this.

For example, a customer of Freedom Forever registered a complaint with the Better Business Bureau about a false promise made by the salesperson. The response by the company essentially blamed the independent dealer model:

Freedom Forever like most solar companies utilizes independent third-party dealers to market its services to customers. The dealers are not employees of Freedom Forever and are only paid on commission for their marketing services.

Freedom understands that Mr. ****** is upset that his system did not offset more of his energy usage. However, Freedom does not guarantee offset. It only guarantees production. There is no mention of offset int the agreement signed by Mr. ****** Because a person’s energy usage changes, it would be impossible to make that type of guarantee.

Freedom would like Mr. ****** to be happy with his decision to go solar, and we are willing to work with him to make that happen, Freedom is currently working out options to achieve this goal, and will be in touch with Mr. ****** shortly.

Freedom Forever’s Sunrun partnership

At the same time that it operates an independent dealer network, Freedom Forever itself is a dealer for Sunrun, which is the largest residential solar installer in the US.

Freedom Forever has already been an installation partner for Sunrun, meaning that it installs systems that Sunrun sells, but recently expanded their partnership to sell Sunrun solar panel and battery products.

Payment options: Lease, PPA, loan, or cash purchase

Like many of the other large national solar installers such as Momentum, Vivint Solar and Sunrun, Freedom Forever offers a choice of zero-money-down financing through a lease or power purchase agreement, a solar loan, or a cash purchase.

According to an interview with CEO Brett Bouchy, 93% of the systems that Freedom Forever sells are financed with a lease or PPA. This is similar to the other national solar installers, who generally push clients to rent their solar panels this way. With this financing model, the solar installers collect the tax credits and other incentives, and make more money in the long run.

This isn’t the only gotcha with zero-down financing. A lease can also make it harder to sell your home, and even make your electricity bill higher in the long run. There are other issues too, which is why I wrote an entire article about leases and PPAs.

The best choice for most homeowners is to pay cash or obtain a secured loan (such as a home equity loan or HELOC) through their bank or an online lender rather than the solar installer. If you decide to go ahead with a lease or PPA anyway, make sure that you read the contract very carefully.

Freedom Forever offers loans, but they are unsecured loans through Mosaic. Unsecured loans are easier to qualify for but have some disadvantages. For example, the loan interest on a secured loan used for home improvements is tax-deductible, but that’s not the case with an unsecured loan.

Freedom Forever’s contractor license violations

Most states in the US require solar installation companies to be licensed. With their licensing programs, many states also mediate complaints between the public and license holders. These complaints are often searchable online, making it easy for consumers to find out if a solar installer has a documented history of bad practices.

Unfortunately, Freedom Forever has numerous violations on record in multiple states. Most notably, in California there are 11 complaints in which the state licensing board formally cited Freedom Forever for violating professional codes. Most of these violations involve the use of unlicensed salespeople. In a couple cases, Freedom Forever was cited for failing to obtain the proper permit.

The most alarming citation says the company committed fraud involving the contract document.

Unfortunately, no further details are available so it’s difficult to know how serious these violations really are.

Freedom Forever also has one violation on record in Arizona and two in Nevada, also for using unlicensed people.

I checked several other, but not all, states that Freedom Forever operates in and didn’t find any other violations.

What does this mean for the consumer? In general, I would say that license violations indicate bad practices that are more widespread than would be suggested by the number of violations actually listed. It takes effort to file a formal complaint: you need documentation, fill out forms, and often you need to submit this in paper. Not every unhappy consumer will bother with this process.

It’s a lot less work to submit a bad Yelp review. Because of this, the presence of 11 violations in the CSLB database suggest that there may be many more unhappy customers out there. This seems to be backed up by numerous complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

Consumer reviews of Freedom Forever

Online review sites are a useful resource for anyone who is trying to pick the best solar installer for their project, but it takes a little judgement to distinguish good review sites from those that are less reliable.

For example, Best Company gives the solar installer Sungevity 4.2 stars out of 5 and calls it “highly recommended”, despite its history of bankruptcy, multiple contractor license violations, and a class action lawsuit. If a company like that can still get a positive recommendation, what does it take for Best Company to give them a bad score?

Instead, I find that the Better Business Bureau is a more objective source of customer feedback. Yelp reviews also tend to fairly reliable.

So what does the BBB think of Freedom Forever? They get 2.46 stars out of 5, and have 193 complaints in the past 3 years, with 135 of those complaints filed in the just the last year.

Most of these complaints - 153 in total - are related to problems with the product or service. As described above, there are several complaints related to the sales pitches from their authorized dealers. Here’s another example:

Around September 2020, a sells man from Freedom Forever recommended by our neighbor came to our house to discuss benefits of solar panel. The sells man discussed all benefits of solar energy. He seems trusting and honest. He told us with solar panels we should be paying around $18 a month in the hot months. The was the only reason why we requested panels to help us in the hot months when the power bill is $300. For the months, of October 2020 to May 2021 the bills were dissent. But for the months of June to present our bills have over $300. Before the panels, bills were around $300 to $400. I called company to ask why and they told me the panels might be generating enough energy and a technician will be calling me to stop by to look at them. It has been 2 weeks to call and no show. Tried calling them...on hold for 2 hours and call gets cut off. Tried calling sells man...hung up on me and never returned call. I feel once contract is signed you are placed at the end of line.

Like the first example in this article, the response from Freedom Forever points the blame in the direction of the authorized dealer.

Many other complaints relate to the installation process, which claim poor workmanship, slow project completions, or roof damage, such as the situation described by this customer:

I ordered solar panels from this company back in March. They came over back in may to install them. They broke a bunch of roof tiles and never came back to finish or repair my roof. And won't return any of my phone calls. ****** came over and they need to talk to someone from freedom forever. They can't hook my solar panels until someone answers some of their questions. It's been 4 months. It's causing a lot of stress to me and my family. I don't deserve to be treated like this.

Check out their listing on BBB to read more yourself.

As for their Yelp reviews, Freedom Forever scores between 2 and 3.5 stars, depending on the location (Yelp’s reviews are location-specific). So, depending on which local office you’re working with, your experience might be pretty poor to fairly good (if your experience is similar to other Yelp users).

Freedom Forever might telemarket you

Sidney Naiman, an individual living in California, filed a class action lawsuit against Freedom Forever for allegedly calling his cell phone in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Here’s the summary of his complaint:

Beginning in October 2017, Plaintiff received multiple calls on his cellular phone from "Defendant"—characterized in the complaint as a single "solar energy company" consisting of Rayosun, LLC, Freedom Solar Services, LLC and Freedom Forever, LLC—soliciting its services. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 5, 8, 15.) At the time of the calls, "each and every Defendant was acting as an agent and/or employee of each of the other Defendants and was acting within the course and scope of said agency and/or employment with the full knowledge and consent of each of the other Defendants." (Id. at ¶ 7.) "Defendant used an `automatic telephone dialing system' as defined by 47 U.S.C. § 227(a)(1) to place its call to Plaintiff seeking to solicit its services." (Id. at ¶ 9.)

The lawsuit was ultimately rejected because the court said Naiman didn’t have standing to file the class action.

However, it’s not hard to believe that Freedom Forever does use telemarketers. When you fill out the form on the Freedom Forever website to get a solar quote, they include this footnote:

By submitting my contact information including my telephone number above, I authorize Freedom Forever LLC and its subsidiaries, its Independent Authorized Dealers, Bright Solar Marketing, and/or its affiliates to contact me via telephone calls and/or text messages (SMS), using automated dialing technology for marketing/advertising purposes.

If you then check out Bright Solar Marketing, you can see on their Indeed page that one of the common jobs at the company is a call center representative. This suggests that Freedom Forever does use telemarketers, though indirectly through another marketing company.

Final advice

Large companies like this can be tricky to evaluate because they are large. One local office might do fantastic work, while other might be responsible for contractor license violations.

Because of this, take the time to do your research on any company you plan to hire and always get multiple quotes. To make things a little easier, you can get contractor recommendations from The Solar Nerd, which prescreens local solar installers for you.

TAGS:
#Installers #Leases and PPAs

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