In my last blog, I wrote about the Tesla/Solar City solar panels on my roof catching fire and igniting the roof shingles. The reader response to that blog was pretty impressive and I thank everyone for their responses. I heard everything from “It’s impossible for solar panels to catch on fire,” to “…happens all the time.” And someone even claimed that firefighters would be electrocuted spraying water on solar panels. I still have not gotten a definitive answer as to how common solar-panel fires are, but here is an update of my situation and what I’ve learned so far.
Attention From Higher Up
Evidently the blog I wrote hit a nerve, because shortly after it came out, I received an email and a subsequent phone call from a person in Tesla’s “Executive Resolutions” department. I like to think of that person as a “soother,” and to her credit, she patiently listened to the story of my disgruntlement, apologizing profusely and promising me a quick resolution to the problem. Obviously schooled in “Pat, pat … there, there…” techniques, she told me that Tesla had approved a decision to move forward with an investigation on April 2, 10 days prior to the phone call. I remember thinking at the time that it had been a week and a half from that approval date to being contacted—an eternity in my estimation.
After another week or so, I got a call from the investigator working for my homeowner’s insurance company. He said that they were still trying to coordinate with Tesla’s investigator on a date. The whole thing was beginning to smell like a “run-around,” and I was rapidly souring on any desire to continue working with Tesla. Its reluctance to act decisively had completely eroded my confidence in the panels that were still on my roof and I wanted the system removed completely.
Finally, the home insurance investigator called with a confirmed date for the investigators to be on site with the additional promise that the panels would be removed at the same time. Remember that for this entire time, the only thing keeping the Cape Cod wind and weather away from my damaged roof was a green plastic tarp secured with furring strips and a few nails.
Investigators on the Job
On the day promised, two workers arrived early in the morning. The gentlemen introduced themselves and said that they were there to remove the tarp for the investigators and to remove the panels. A short while later, two more vehicles arrived with the investigators. Visual access had to be from a neighbor’s yard, so I got the neighbor’s permission for the investigators to be on their property to observe the damage. I went inside my office to work, with the sound of the workers’ feet right above my head as they peeled back the tarp.
While I worked in my office, one of the investigators came up to the office to inspect the attic space that was over my office and directly below the fire-damaged roof. He chuckled to me, “Quite a man cave you have here!” Man cave? Hardly! In no mood for pleasantries, I quickly reminded him that this building housed an office that was used daily, as well as studio that I used regularly for both my music and my sculpture. He didn’t make any further comments.
A little while later, I went outside to check on the progress. With the tarp peeled back, the charred shingles and melted panels made my blood run cold as I remembered the day of the fire back in March. It was like unwrapping a bandage covering a deep wound and being taken aback at the sight of the damaged flesh—in this case, the scorched and exposed roof structure.
As with the crew who had installed the panels four years earlier, the workers on the roof all wore proper fall-protection gear, which made my inner JLC editor smile. The dark-green tarp was flopped over the gable eaves and the crew was looking at the damaged panels. I was a little astonished to see the investigators sitting on a retaining wall under my neighbor’s deck—really? One of them was smoking a cigar and spitting green juice into the neighbor’s lawn. They’d been given permission to come on the property to look at the roof, but these guys should have known better than to be hanging out there. After my admonishment, they relocated to the patio in back of my home.
After all that, the investigators never did venture onto the roof to inspect the damage. Instead, they passed their cameras up to the roof crew for them to take pictures. My heart sank as it became obvious pretty quickly that the workers would not be able to remove the panels. Without additional help, their only option was to redeploy the tarp and resecure it.
The investigators took off pretty quickly after that, but I took time to talk to the roof crew. They could not have been more gracious in the face of my exasperation. In their defense, they said that they hadn’t known anything about the project until they showed up at the office that morning to get their assignments. Had they known the scope of the job, they would have requested additional help, although they said that the odds of getting an additional person that morning had been pretty nil. I relayed the saga of my dealings with Tesla thus far, and they, too, apologized whole heartedly.
Perhaps the thing that struck me the most was the sheer wastefulness of this futile endeavor. Counting the investigators, four workers in four separate vehicles had puttered through an entire morning with very little to show for their efforts. There seemed to be a total lack of planning and forethought on the part of a company that quite frankly, I expected a lot more from. At least on the surface, it seems that maybe Tesla really hadn’t thought things through before acquiring Solar City, a company that has installed thousands of solar arrays throughout the country. Its maintenance and emergency response capabilities had seemed to be wholly inadequate—at least in my dealings with the company.
As far as a cause of the fire, they told me that they had found evidence of some sort of animal nest under the panels, and added that most installations now include protective screening to discourage animal incursion. Other than that, there was no other evidence pointing to any sort of cause. They did take the time to remove most of the fire debris from my neighbor’s shrubs and yard that had fallen while fighting the fire. They promised to do a final and more complete cleanup when the panels are removed.
My wife and I were due to leave the next morning for a 10-day vacation, and I wanted to be on site for any additional work. While we were away, there was no communication from Tesla about rescheduling removal of the system. I’d hoped that they would have reached out with some possible dates. Instead when I returned I got a general email from Tesla saying that they would be scheduling routine maintenance on all systems in the area. Again, Really? They had the staff for all this routine maintenance work, but not enough people to send out to remove my fire-damaged panels?
I forwarded the email to my soother, and she assured me that they would be scheduling a removal date soon. A day later, I received an email from yet another person at Tesla with a tentative date of May 29th for the removal—more than two full months after the panels caught fire on my roof! Meanwhile, the green tarp continues to protect my roof—so far so good—although it flaps against the roof in the frequent strong breezes to remind me that its duties are only temporary. The air in my office still smells smoky in damp, windy weather. I hold out hope that the company will actually remove the system this time on the day they have promised.
To be continued…