Category: COVID-19

Updated COVID-19-Related Marketing Guidelines – June 30, 2020

On March 20, 2020, in light of the growing COVID-19 pandemic and its expected impacts in Illinois, the Illinois Power Agency adopted the following emergency amendment to its Adjustable Block Program and Illinois Solar for All Program Marketing Guidelines:

In-person marketing and solicitation: Given the public health emergency posed by the COVID-19 virus, in-person marketing or solicitation of photovoltaic system sales, installations, or financing; in-person marketing or solicitation of community solar subscriptions; or similar in-person solar marketing or solicitation activity are prohibited. 

Clarifications to these requirements were offered on May 18, 2020, along with additional guidance on June 4, 2020.

This update confirms that the IPA’s prohibition of door-to-door sales and solicitation remains in place.  Although the state has progressed to Phase 4 (out of 5) of the Restore Illinois Reopening Plan, Governor JB Pritzker’s COVID-19-related disaster proclamation was again extended for 30 days on June 26, 2020, recognizing that COVID-19 remains a significant public health risk to Illinois residents.  The Illinois Commerce Commission’s emergency order prohibiting door to door sales by Alternative Retail Electric Suppliers and Alternative Gas Suppliers also remains in place.  As identified COVID-19 cases have also risen nationally, the Agency believes this would be an inappropriate time to start permitting in-person interactions initiated without a customer, homeowner, or business owner’s express permission.

Prior-issued guidance regarding best practices and permitted activities remains in effect.  Should you have questions about whether specific practices are permitted, please contact IPA Chief Legal Counsel Brian Granahan at Brian.Granahan@Illinois.gov.

 

Updated Covid-19-Related Marketing Guidelines – June 4, 2020

On March 20, 2020, in light of the growing COVID-19 pandemic and its expected impacts in Illinois, the Illinois Power Agency adopted the following emergency amendment to its Adjustable Block Program and Illinois Solar for All Program Marketing Guidelines:

In-person marketing and solicitation: Given the public health emergency posed by the COVID-19 virus, in-person marketing or solicitation of photovoltaic system sales, installations, or financing; in-person marketing or solicitation of community solar subscriptions; or similar in-person solar marketing or solicitation activity are prohibited. 

Clarifications to these requirements were offered on May 18, 2020, along with a statement that further guidance would be offered during the first week of June.  This communication offers that guidance.

While all four regions of the state successfully achieved Phase 3 (out of 5) of the State of Illinois’s Restore Illinois Reopening Plan on May 29th—thus demonstrating that COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations, and ICU capacity remain stable or are decreasing—the IPA does not believe that a full elimination of its in-person marketing and solicitation prohibition is warranted.

As outlined most recently in Governor J.B. Pritzker’s May 29, 2020 disaster proclamation, COVID-19 remains a significant public health threat to Illinois residents.  By way of example, the two days prior to this June 4, 2020 announcement featured official totals of over 200 new COVID-19-related fatalities and over 2500 new positive cases in Illinois.  While hospitalization rates, fatalities, and positive testing rates have recently been declining from peak levels, they remain at levels significant enough to continue to constitute a public health emergency across Illinois.

Although Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois Plan permits gatherings of 10 people or fewer, those gatherings presumably involve individuals acquiescing to person-to-person interactions.  This is not the case for door-to-door sales and solicitation.  An at-risk individual may believe that a visitor to his or her residence is delivering groceries, pharmaceutical drugs, or other true necessities rather than soliciting a product that the individual does not need.  To prevent these and other unwanted interactions during an ongoing pandemic, and to ensure that Illinois residents and business have positive experiences under a ratepayer-funded incentive program, the IPA believes that while certain aspects of its restrictions should be loosened, door-to-door sales and solicitation will remain prohibited. (The Agency notes that the Illinois Commerce Commission’s emergency order prohibiting door to door sales by Alternative Retail Electric Suppliers and Alternative Gas Suppliers also remains in place.)

The Illinois Power Agency will revisit this decision in approximately two to three weeks’ time.  Absent any new announcements from the Agency, this prohibition will remain in place.

PERMITTED ACTIVITIES

In light of the progress that has been made to date, one prior clarification has been revisited.  Passive forms of in-person marketing and solicitation – such as tabling at retail stores or events, or door-to-door distribution of marketing materials such as advertising flyers – are no longer prohibited.  While these activities could increase the likelihood of unnecessary person-to-person interactions, such an increase would be small or already agreed-to through participation in existing commercial channels.  Any permitted door-to-door distribution of marketing materials must consist only of distribution of materials (with no notification—such as door knocking or ringing of a doorbell—allowed) and not include any other marketing or solicitation activities, including in-person sales or solicitation, until such time as the potential customer has received and read those materials and initiated an entirely separate follow-up conversation.

Additionally, in-person meetings with prospective or existing customers (such as a follow-up to an online or phone discussion) are not prohibited so long as expressly agreed to by that customer.  The IPA strongly discourages any high-pressure tactics used to secure such meetings, however, and requests that all Approved Vendors, designees, agents, and subcontractors strongly consider whether virtual meetings, e-signatures, or other telecommunication practices can instead be utilized.  Approved Vendors, designees, agents, and subcontractors must respect the wishes of existing or prospective customers who do not wish to meet in-person.

The IPA and its Program Administrators are taking steps to cross-check project applications and disclosure forms received during this in-person sales and marketing prohibition through follow-up with select customers.  These checks are being made to ensure that prohibited sales and solicitation practices are not in fact being utilized.

Should you have questions about whether specific other sales practices are permitted, please contact IPA Chief Legal Counsel Brian Granahan at Brian.Granahan@Illinois.gov.  To the extent not expressly addressed above or otherwise clear, whether a sales practice is permitted under the IPA’s emergency COVID-19-related marketing guidelines will generally depend on whether a) the sales activity could result in person-to-person interactions without the consent of the prospective customer and b) whether a viable alternative avoiding person-to-person interaction can be identified.

BEST PRACTICES

In conducting permitted sales and solicitation activity, the IPA strongly encourages that certain best practices be adopted.

  • First, as noted above, person-to-person interactions should be minimized. If business can instead be conducted through phone, email, Zoom chats, utilizing e-signatures, or otherwise using mediums non-reliant on person-to-person interactions, public health interests as served by utilizing those measures.
  • Second, even under Phase 3 of the Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois Plan, certain best practices continue to be required. For example, utilizing face coverings in public still stands as a requirement under Phase 3 just as it was under Phase 2.  And while certain industries can begin returning to workplaces, social distancing and proper sanitization practices are required to be put in place.  The IPA believes these practices should likewise be required for any solar sales and solicitation practices involving any in-person interactions, and strongly encourages Approved Vendors to ensure that any sales agents or other individuals interfacing with customers are specifically trained in how to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
  • Third, even if certain practices are not prohibited under the requirements issued by the IPA, Approved Vendors, designees, subcontractors, and agents should understand and operate mindful of any local requirements (some of which may be stricter than IPA requirements).

OFFICE REOPENINGS

Nothing in the IPA’s in-person marketing and solicitation prohibition is intended to address whether corporate, satellite, or other offices of an Approved Vendor, designee, subcontractor, or agent may reopen.  The IPA understands those decisions to be governed by the Governor’s five-phase Restore Illinois Plan and, once permitted by state and local authorities, subject to the determinations of that company’s leadership.

COVID-19 Marketing Guidelines Update and Clarifications

The Illinois Power Agency provides the following communication as an update and clarification of its prohibition on in-person marketing and solicitation issued on March 20, 2020.

At present, the IPA’s emergency revisions to its marketing guidelines prohibiting in-person marketing and solicitation remain in effect until further notice.  In responding to questions about when that prohibition may be lifted, the IPA has offered the following statement:

Given the unknown trajectory of COVID-19 and by when social distancing measures can safely be eased, the Illinois Power Agency cannot offer an estimate for by when person-to-person solar solicitations will be once again allowed under the Adjustable Block Program or the Illinois Solar for All Program.  However, the Agency’s approach is likely to track the approach taken by the Illinois Commerce Commission and other state public utility commissions regarding their in-person solicitation prohibitions applicable to retail electric supply products. In addition, the Agency will also be closely monitoring the Governor’s Executive Orders, disaster declaration, and stay-at-home orders before making any determination. 

The IPA understands that some (and possibly all) regions of Illinois may reach Phase 3 in Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois Reopening Plan on May 29th.  While a change to a region’s status will not necessarily determine whether the IPA’s in-person marketing and solicitation prohibition remains in place for that region, the IPA plans to assess the basis for its prohibition at that time and hopes to offer further guidance during the first week of June.  Possible changes could include relaxation of prohibitions for certain regions or for select types of activities, but no determinations have yet been made, nor will be made, until that time.

Over the past two months, the IPA has received questions about the scope of the current prohibitions; clarifications offered are memorialized below.

  • Project development work (such as system installation) is not prohibited under the IPA’s revised marketing guidelines. However, all Approved Vendors should operate mindful of this ongoing public health emergency and the Governor’s Executive Orders.  Additionally, under no circumstances should installation activity proceed over the objections of the customer or property owner.
  • More passive forms of in-person marketing and solicitation – such as tabling at retail stores or events, or door-to-door distribution of marketing materials such as advertising flyers – are prohibited. The IPA’s objective is to reduce unnecessary person-to-person contact in connection with the marketing of photovoltaic systems or community solar subscriptions, and these activities increase the likelihood of unnecessary person-to-person interactions.

Lastly, should you have any questions about the scope of this prohibition, please contact the IPA’s Chief Legal Counsel at Brian.Granahan@Illinois.gov.

We look forward to providing you with additional guidance in approximately two weeks’ time.