Walmart Sues Tesla Over Rooftop Solar Panel Installations

by | Aug 22, 2019

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Walmart Sues Tesla Over Rooftop Solar Panel Installations

(Photo: An inspection photo from a 2018 rooftop fire at a Walmart store in Indio, California, shown in the retailer’s lawsuit filed this week against Tesla. Credit: Walmart)

Walmart filed a lawsuit against Tesla this week in New York State Supreme Court over breach of contract for rooftop solar installations at stores. The retailer accused Tesla of “years of gross negligence and failure to live up to industry standards.”

The filing detailed fires on several store rooftops that had leased or licensed space to Tesla for solar systems. In March 2018, a fire that began on the roof at a store in Beavercreek, Ohio, prompted an evacuation and destroyed merchandise. A blaze on May 21, 2018, damaged the roof at a Walmart in Denton, Maryland. Another fire occurred eight days later at a store in Indio, California.

“Why were multiple Walmart stores located all over the country suddenly catching fire? The answer was obvious and startling: the stores all had Tesla solar panels installed by Tesla on their roofs,” the lawsuit said. “At each location, the fire had originated in the Tesla solar panels.”

After the fires, Walmart said the company had Tesla disconnect the solar panel systems, but another fire still broke out, this time in November at a store in Yuba City, California. “Wires on the store’s rooftop were still sparking at the time that Walmart discovered the fire and could have ignited more extensive flames, with potentially devastating consequences,” the filing said.

“Equally troubling, after Tesla technicians visited the rooftop, one of the technicians failed to close the cover to a combiner box, exposing this important piece of equipment to the elements, thereby creating a fire hazard,” the filing continued. “Still more troubling, Walmart subsequently learned (independent of Tesla) that a potentially dangerous ground fault alert had occurred at the Yuba City site during the summer of 2018.”

Walmart consultants visiting solar system sites with Tesla personnel found “widespread, systemic negligence,” according to the retailer. Besides discovering solar panels that contained defects, Walmart says that Tesla was sending untrained personnel to perform inspections.

The lawsuit also criticized Tesla’s $2.6 billion purchase of SolarCity in 2016: “Tesla, Inc. proved unable to manage the solar panel systems that they had inherited from SolarCity, to correct the problems that SolarCity’s grow-fast business model had created, and to maintain the already faulty solar systems that Tesla was under a contractual obligation to operate.”

The retailer didn’t specify how much money it’s seeking in the lawsuit, leaving that up to the court. Tesla did not respond to journalists’ requests for comment. On Wednesday, Tesla shares were down more than 3%, CNBC reported.

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