Walmart Sues Tesla, Alleging Faulty Solar Panels Started Multiple Fires on Store Rooftops

Photo: John Moore (Getty)

In a new blow to floundering Tesla subsidiary SolarCity, Walmart is taking the renewable energy company to court, alleging hardware it installed on the roofs of some stores led to fires at least seven of the retail giant’s locations.

According to the lawsuit, filed today in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, “Walmart had leased or licensed its roof space to Tesla for the installation, operation, and maintenance by Tesla of “photovoltaic” (i.e., solar) systems,” at approximately 240 stores. Beginning as early as 2012, several of those stores began experiencing rooftop fires.

“At each location,” Walmart alleges, “the fire had originated in the Tesla solar panels.”

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Inspection team at Lake Indigo Walmart fire site
Photo: Walmart v Tesla

Finally, in May of 2018, after three fires occurred in relatively quick succession, Walmart requested Tesla disconnect all solar panels on the roofs of its stores—which it did, according to the lawsuit. Still, two locations with SolarCity installations experienced rooftop fires anyway. Walmart claims, in reference to a fire at a Yuba City, California, location, that “wires on the store’s rooftop were still sparking at the time that Walmart discovered the fire.”

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Tesla went on to carry out safety inspections in 2019, hoping to find a way to re-energize the rooftop installations. In doing so it found 157 items needing replacement or repair, “48 of which Tesla itself characterized as reflecting conditions that rendered the sites unsafe or potentially unsafe” (emphasis theirs.) Thankfully, it seems none of the incidents resulted in any serious injuries.

This is not the first time SolarCity has been embroiled in legal difficulties, either. A years-long probe found the company inflated the cost of several installations it made on behalf of the state of Oregon—coughing up $13 million in a settlement last October.

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Tesla has not yet responded to a request for comment. Walmart declined to comment.

Walmart is suing the electric car maker and its solar subsidiary for breach of contract and negligence, and seeks “damages in an amount reflecting the outstanding value of out of-pocket costs and consulting fees in connection with all the fires caused by Tesla’s solar panel.” While that amount is not disclosed in the lawsuit, the company does claim it suffered millions of dollars in damages as a direct result of the fires.

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Bryan Menegus

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bryan.menegus [at] gizmodo.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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