SEC still investigating Tesla solar panels two years after whistleblower report

Photo (c) RoschetzkyIstockPhoto - Getty Images

Some consumers like Tesla’s solar products but not its service

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) says it is investigating claims that Tesla’s solar roof panels are a fire risk. The inquiry came about as a result of a whistleblower claim alleging that Tesla failed to give adequate risk warnings to the public and alert its shareholders about potential issues.

Reuters reports that more than 60,000 U.S. residential customers and 500 commercial and government accounts were affected by these fire risks.

While the company keeps trying to improve the efficiency of its solar roof tiles, its history of legal tussles and concerns over the panels aren’t new. In 2019, Walmart filed a lawsuit against Tesla claiming that its solar panels caught fire on the roofs of seven Walmart stores between 2012 and 2018.

Earlier this year, the company was hit with a class-action lawsuit over price hikes, led by a customer who said his contract jumped from $71,000 to $146,000.

SEC still working through report after two years

The whistleblower report was originally filed by a former Tesla field quality manager – Steven Henkes – in 2019. In his SEC filing, Henkes claimed that Tesla and SolarCity did not disclose the “liability and exposure to property damage, risk of injury of users, fire etc to shareholders” before and after the latter was acquired by the former.

The status of the report remained undisclosed for two years until Henkes filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for an update.

“We have confirmed with Division of Enforcement staff that the investigation from which you seek records is still active and ongoing,” the SEC told Henkes in September. However, the agency declined his request to provide a copy of its records, saying that confirmation should not be taken as any sort of indication that any violations had taken place.

Impact on Tesla solar panel customers

Henkes alleges that Tesla failed to warn its solar customers that defective electrical connectors could possibly lead to a fire. He maintains that the only thing Tesla did was tell consumers that it needed to conduct maintenance on solar panel systems to avoid a failure that could cause a shutdown. 

Consumers posting reviews at ConsumerAffairs have had a lot to say about their negative consumer experiences with Tesla Solar. Nancy of Salem, N.H., said the company has been negligent of its duties after initially installing her solar panels.

“Tesla did a great job installing our solar panels and power walls but has completely dropped the ball in getting the system turned on. System was installed in July and As of end of November it is still not approved by Liberty Utilities for net metering due to negligence by Tesla. And we paid for the system months ago,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. 

“We had to take the lead with Liberty Utility to find out what the holdup was since Tesla did nothing on their end for three months. We found out they owed the utility company money before they would do final review. Tesla finally cut a check in early November and told us it would be delivered in two days. Three weeks later, we are told they are still waiting for the postal service to pick up the check. This is ridiculous. Every month of delay is costing us $100-$200 since we cannot feed the grid with excess energy. Very poor service!!!”

Could your debt be reduced or forgiven? Take our financial relief quiz.