The proliferation of third-party companies that own solar rooftops and\/or lease them to underlying homeowners in and outside California, in place of residential, community or utility ownership, is raising concerns about consumer protection adequacies. If things go wrong\u2014be it shoddy installation, a bum warranty or unexpected rate increases\u2014many consumers are largely unprotected, noted panelists at a National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Nov. 16 meeting. Third-party solar companies in California, the biggest being Solar City, are not regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. Thus, the agency can\u2019t protect consumers that seek its help. So what recourse does an aggrieved homeowner with a solar rooftop they don\u2019t own have? \u201cThat is a good question,\u201d said CPUC member Mike Picker. He said his agency has no authority over third-party solar installers and it would take legislation to make that happen. To date, consumer protection for third-party solar installers \u201chas not gotten the relevant policy makers\u2019 attention,\u201d Picker noted. At this point, consumer protection is limited to filing a lawsuit, which is costly and time consuming, complaining to the Better Business Bureau and the state Attorney General. Speaking to someone with authority at the solar installer office is often a significant challenge, panelists pointed out. The commission\u2019s Office of Ratepayer Advocates \u201crepresents customers who take service from CPUC-regulated entities, so we aren\u2019t in a position to assist with customer complaints regarding third-party leased solar rooftops,\u201d said Mike Campbell, office program manager. The third-party companies tap into solar state and federal subsidies. They offer long-term contracts to residences, sometimes via an independent third party who may make false or misleading statements about the contracts. Also, some agreements can be complex and opaque. The deals often come with warranties for up to 20 years, though the life of the system\u2014or some parts\u2014are predicted to fall short of that mark. The solar company then packages and bundles the agreements and expected stream of income and sells them to investors. Many regulators are wondering what to do if things don\u2019t turn out as advertised in the booming third-party solar business\u2014and there are a lot of hustling solar salespersons going door to door, calling and cornering people at hardware stores. Picker said several complaints were raised by muni ratepayers when he was on the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Board. Utility commissioners in other states are worried as well, although the extent of the problem of bum deals, unclear terms, including who is responsible for removing the system\u2014is unclear. \u201cDo consumers really understand what they are signing up for,\u201d asked Lon Huber, policy specialist at the Arizona Residential Utility Consumer Office. He noted that Arizona homeowners with long-term leases for their solar rooftops that are net metered aren\u2019t protected from rate increases and likely are unaware of that fact. \u201cA concern worth investigating, is ensuing there is enough revenue retained by the company to fulfill the solar system\u2019s warranty obligations,\u201d said Yochi Zakai, policy advisor at the Utilities & Transportation Commission in Washington. In the state of Washington, third-party solar providers are not regulated, but they also can\u2019t tap into state solar subsidies, limiting their growth. Legislation is pending in that state to allow third-party solar companies to reap state solar subsidies in exchange for being regulated by the Washington utilities commission. Some states provide ratepayers protection through the state utilities commission and the attorney general. But in California, CPUC jurisdiction knocks out that provided by the attorney general. Utility commissions \u201cshould act as intermediaries before the problems escalate,\u201d providing \u201clite regulation,\u201d said Kimberly Fontan, Entergy vice president of regulatory affairs.