Walmart sues Tesla, citing rooftop fires at 7 stores

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 1,002 views 

Walmart has filed suit against SolarCity, a Tesla-owned company that installed solar panels on top of hundreds of its stores, after reporting seven rooftop fires linked to the panels.

In the 116-page suit filed Tuesday (Aug. 20) in New York State Supreme Court, Walmart asked the court to force Tesla to remove solar panels from than 240 of its stores claiming “widespread negligence” led to the fires. Walmart said the fires caused massive damage to store merchandise and required substantial repairs totaling millions of dollars in losses.

The suit said as of November 2018, at least seven Walmart stores had experienced fires due to Tesla’s solar systems. One of the fires happened months after the system was de-energized. The suit also claims inadequate inspections by Tesla have created a safety hazard for Walmart customers and employees.

The suit claims aside from the seven fire sites, dozens of other locations show hazards such as “hot spots” on panels. Walmart also claims in the filing SolarCity workers displayed “utter incompetence.”

“This is a breach of contract action arising from years of gross negligence and failure to live up to industry standards by Tesla with respect to solar panels that Tesla designed, installed and promised to operate and maintain safely on the roofs of hundreds of Walmart stores,” the lawsuit states.

In May, Walmart had SolarCity disconnect the solar panels in the remainder of its stores after the fires. Now the retailer wants the panels removed.

Walmart partnered with SolarCity in 2010 to place solar panels on the rooftops of 244 stores as the retailer ramped up its sustainability agenda to lower energy costs. Walmart set a goal of sourcing 35% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. The solar panel deal was part of that plan.

Walmart has more than 350 on-site solar installations. The company has signed contracts to add more than 120 new installations by next year, according to a 2019 report on environmental, social and governance goals. The company didn’t reply to a request for comment on whether those totals include the Tesla systems.

In the suit, Walmart said in July it contacted Tesla wanting a complete analysis of the root causes of the fires and asked for damage reimbursement to its stores where the fires occurred. Walmart gave Tesla 30 days to comply. As of Aug. 15, Walmart said Tesla “still has not taken any reasonable steps toward curing its breaches,” the suit states.

Tesla has not yet responded to the suit. Walmart had no additional comment on the suit but said the solar panels from SolarCity make up a small percentage of the retailer’s total renewable energy load.

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