Federal Investigation into the Tesla Solar Fires: Important Lessons to Learn
Alex "Solar Girl" Steele
Recently, news broke about the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission considering a former Tesla employee’s whistleblower complaint related to the company’s management and disclosure of risks associated with their solar installations. After a Freedom of Information Act inquiry on the investigation by CNBC, it was revealed that the government agency is probing the energy and automobile company in response to allegations that they did not follow industry standards for safety, nor did they accurately communicate the hazards associated with their solar energy systems. Since Tesla has started installing solar, there have been a number of serious fires at the sites of their systems, most notably at several Walmart locations across the country. This originally sparked a lawsuit between the grocery and energy giants, but a settlement was reached in 2019. However, Tesla has not entirely escaped scrutiny for these issues. Now that a former employee is voicing his concerns about safety oversights, a federal investigation into Tesla’s safety procedures and is occurring.
This topic is important to us because we make consumer honesty and transparency a priority at Solar Wolf Energy. We’ve been around long enough to hear plenty of false promises and tall tales coming from sales companies and installers alike. Because the solar industry is growing rapidly, we have seen hundreds of companies start up, operate for a short amount of time, and close their doors after failing to fulfill the needs of their customers. Many groups operate by misrepresenting incentives and credits to homeowners, or posturing like you can “get paid” to go solar or do it completely free of charge. There is plenty of misinformation about the consumer process for obtaining a solar energy system, so we try to represent the truth at all times. Unfortunately, consumers all over the country put their trust in Tesla, only to be let down and like thousands of other people who were misguided by deceptive marketing techniques or poorly informed about the installation process. People choose to go solar to shrink their expenses, improve their energy efficiency, and make a positive impact on the world, and we don’t want to see anyone shy away from the benefits of renewable power due to negative experiences with salespeople or installers. By spreading awareness about less-than-ethical solar companies, and maintaining our position as an installer with integrity, we hope to change the energy status quo forever!
The primary whistleblower associated with this case is a man named Steven Henkes, who was a quality manager working on a Tesla solar field before he was fired in August 2020. Henkes is now suing Tesla for retaliation, as he believes he was unfairly terminated after reporting safety concerns within the company, and then filing formal complaints with government offices after he felt Tesla did not act on the internal reports. Henkes alleges that the fire risks associated with their rooftop solar systems were not adequately addressed, and that the dangers were not accurately communicated to customers. Though he has not made a public statement yet, he communicated through his attorney in correspondence with news outlet CNBC that “there continues to be a real threat of fires due to serial defects in the Tesla installations… The consumers have not been adequately informed of the risks.”
In addition to the Walmart facilities that experienced serious fires associated with incorrectly installed Tesla solar systems, a number of residential properties were damaged by Tesla solar systems. In August 2019, a homeowner in Colorado named Briana Greer experienced a housefire due to complications associated with her Tesla rooftop system. At the time of the fire, she was waiting for Tesla to come inspect her system, which had been displaying voltage fluctuations the week prior. Before Tesla could send a technician to diagnose the issue, a fire broke out. This is only one report of many dangerous complications associated with Tesla solar systems.
As experts in the industry know, it is not normal for solar energy systems to burst into flames. When installed and maintained properly, they are very safe and last for decades. It is so important to advocate for due diligence in the solar installation process from all parties. While we always advise that consumers do their own research and compare installers to find the best quality, it is also critical that energy companies such as Tesla do everything in their power to properly train their technicians and vet third-party contractors to ensure they will will conform to safety regulations. Commitment to safety and prioritizing customers at all levels of the industry will reinforce confidence in solar, and encourage more consumers and investors to support it! It is our hope that this U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation uncovers facts that help us improve safety standards for solar across the board!