BBB National Programs National Advertising Division Recommends Discontinuation of Sunrun’s National “Save Up To 20%” On Your Electric Bill Over the Term of the Contract Claim; Finds Sunrun’s General Savings Claims about its Solar Service are Supported
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Brett, Director, 212.705.0109 / firstname.lastname@example.org
New York, NY – Jan. 29, 2020 – The National Advertising Division (NAD) has recommended that Sunrun Installation Services Inc. (Sunrun), an installer of residential solar energy systems, discontinue certain national advertising claims, including the claim that consumers can “Save up to 20%” on their energy bills by switching to solar. NAD determined that Sunrun substantiated several savings claims, including the claims that: (i) consumers will “Gain Energy Freedom & Control With a Solar Lease” (ii) “[f]or as little as $0 down, you can secure long term predictability and peace of mind when you go solar with Sunrun’s monthly service plan”; (iii) “solar comes out ahead of grid electricity in most of the U.S. as shown in this map”; (iv) “electricity rates are rising”; and (v) “Every time the rates go up . . . too bad. Just keep paying. It’s not like you had a choice, right. Well you do now. You can lock in a surprisingly low electricity rate by going solar with Sunrun. The next time utility rates rise, you’re laughing all the way to the bank.”
The claims at issue, which appeared in national online advertising, were challenged by the Campaign for Accountability (CfA).
NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is a division of the BBB National Programs’ self-regulatory and dispute resolution programs.
In national online advertising, Sunrun states that consumers will “save up to 20%” by switching to solar. In support of this claim, the advertiser relied on projections, based on historical rate increases, showing that utility rates will increase on average 3.76% annually over the 20-year span of a Sunrun contract. NAD considered the evidence in the record and determined that the advertiser’s twenty-year projection of utility rates is insufficiently reliable and therefore cannot support a long-term savings claim comparing the cost of solar energy provided by Sunrun to electricity provided by traditional utilities.
NAD noted that Sunrun did not provide sufficient evidence that long-term 20-year forecasts are reliable on a nationwide basis or accepted in the industry as a means of projecting what any individual utility customer may reasonably expect regardless of their location. Rather, the record demonstrated that electricity rates may be highly variable in the short term and can be influenced by many unpredictable factors. Significantly, long-term projections of utility rates are dependent on a number of variables including oil and gas prices, which can be unpredictable and volatile, as well as macroeconomic conditions, tax rates and public policy, and the impact of technological changes all of which may impact energy prices. A twenty-year projection may also unavoidably fail to account for the administrative process involved in setting utility rates (e.g., regulators in public and contested proceedings).
While NAD found that Sunrun’s comparative claim was unreliable, it nevertheless examined the message reasonably conveyed in Sunrun’s advertising and the evidence provided by Sunrun in support of its claim that consumers will save “up to 20% on their electric bills by switching to solar. NAD determined that Sunrun’s advertising reasonably conveys the message that there may be variability in overall savings (e.g., Sunrun’s disclosure refers to factors such as actual energy usage, geography, and weather), but that all or almost all individual consumers will save at least 20% by switching to solar. Further, NAD noted that according to Sunrun’s projections, the percentages of customers who save, and the amount saved, varies with the payment option selected by the customer but not all or almost all customers would save 20% or more. Thus, NAD determined that Sunrun did not have a reasonable basis for claiming that nationwide consumers will save “up to 20%” on their electric bills by switching to solar. For these reasons, NAD recommended that it discontinue the claim in its national advertising. Further, to the extent Sunrun representatives echo this national savings claim during in-home visits with prospective Sunrun customers, NAD recommended that such claims be discontinued. Nothing in NAD’s decision precludes Sunrun from making other claims about the benefits of solar service, including cost saving claims, which are truthful and reliably supported.
NAD also considered the messages reasonably conveyed by Sunrun’s other general savings claims, and whether such messages were substantiated.
During the pendency of NAD’s inquiry, the advertiser advised that it had permanently discontinued the claim made in a YouTube video that consumers will “always” save by switching to solar. NAD, relying on the advertiser’s representation that this claim has been permanently discontinued, did not review the claim on its merits. However, the voluntarily discontinued claim will be treated, for compliance purposes, as though NAD recommended its discontinuance and the advertiser agreed to comply.
Because consumers can obtain a fixed rate for electricity by contracting with Sunrun, NAD found substantiated the claims on Sunrun’s website that consumers should “Gain Energy Freedom & Control With a Solar Lease,” followed by language stating that “[f]or as little as $0 down, you can secure long term predictability and peace of mind when you go solar with Sunrun’s monthly service plan” if they switch to solar energy, and the claim in a video on its website stating “Every time that the rates go up . . . too bad. Just keep paying. It’s not like you had a choice, right. Well you do now. You can lock in a surprisingly low electricity rate by going solar with Sunrun. The next time utility rates rise, you’re laughing all the way to the bank.” NAD also found that Sunrun had substantiated website claims that “solar comes out ahead of grid electricity in most of U.S. as shown in this map” and “electricity rates are rising” because this statement was accurate as a general characterization of electricity pricing.
NAD recommended that Sunrun modify the portion of its website under the heading “Solar Savings are Big” to make it clear that it offers a potential, rather than a guarantee, for savings. In addition, NAD recommended that Sunrun modify the claim in a YouTube video stating that consumers “will” pay less on their bills to avoid conveying the message that savings are a certainty when switching to solar.
In its advertiser’s statement, Sunrun stated that it “will comply with NAD’s decision.”
About the National Advertising Division (NAD): National Advertising Division (NAD), a division of BBB National Programs, provides independent self-regulation overseeing the truthfulness of advertising across the U.S. NAD reviews national advertising in all media and its decisions set consistent standards for truth and accuracy.
About BBB National Programs: BBB National Programs fosters trust, innovation, and competition in the marketplace through the development and delivery of effective, third-party self-regulation, dispute resolution and other programs. BBB National Programs is the home of industry self-regulatory and dispute resolution programs that include the National Advertising Division (NAD), National Advertising Review Board (NARB), BBB EU Privacy Shield, BBB AUTO LINE, Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), Children’s Confection Advertising Initiative (CCAI), Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC), Digital Advertising Accountability Program (Accountability Program), and the Coalition for Better Advertising Dispute Resolution Program (CBA DRM). The programs are designed to resolve business issues and advance shared objectives by responding to marketplace concerns to create a better customer experience. To learn more about industry self-regulation, please visit: BBBNP.org.