BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart is suing Tesla for breach of contract after its solar panels allegedly ignited fires on the roofs of Walmart stores, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in the state of New York.
In recent years, Walmart installed solar panels from Tesla Energy Operations on the more than 240 stores across the country. The two companies agreed that Walmart would lease or license its roof space to Tesla for the solar panels in exchange for lower energy costs, and Tesla would retain ownership of the panels and handle their maintenance, the filing states. It details fires at seven stores across the country, which Walmart contends all originated in Tesla solar panels and cost the retailer millions in repairs.
“To state the obvious, properly designed, installed, inspected, and maintained solar systems do not spontaneously combust, and the occurrence of multiple fires involving Tesla’s solar systems is but one unmistakable sign of negligence by Tesla,” the complaint states.
With the suit, Walmart is seeking to recover the costs related to the fires and have Tesla remove the systems, as well as unspecified other damages.
Tesla did not respond to requests for comment. Walmart declined to comment further on the suit.
Walmart alleges that as of November 2018, seven stores had experienced fires as a result of the solar panels, with the first occurring in 2012 in Long Beach, California. One fire, in March 2018 at a store in Beavercreek, Ohio, caused a large amount of black smoke, forcing employees and customers in the Walmart and in nearby stores to evacuate, the filing states. Walmart said the fire destroyed “significant amounts” of store merchandise, requiring thousands of dollars in replacements as well as building repairs, and the store had to close for eight days.
Walmart says two other, similar fires occurred during that month, after which point it asked Tesla to disconnect the solar panels out of fear “for the safety of its customers, its employees and the general public.”
Tesla complied, but another fire occurred even after the panels were disconnected, Walmart claims. The complaint also states that Tesla’s own inspections of the solar panel systems installed on Walmart roofs identified some “unsafe or potentially unsafe” conditions.”
Walmart said no one was seriously injured in any of the fires.
The suit comes as the electric car maker has been trying to revive its solar business, which has struggled in a fiercely competitive market. In May, the company cut solar panel costs to well below the national average.