Solar panels are supposed to create energy and save money.
“We were excited about it because so much had been written about solar and how it would reduce our electrical bill,” said Edward Snyder a concerned homeowner.
Roseville was in the process of becoming the largest solar community in the nation, so several hundred families moved into what they thought would be their dream home.
“We basically purchased it because it had solar panels on it,” said Jennifer Everett, a concerned homeowner.
Many of the families soon found out their dream home was, really, a nightmare.
“The first thing that happened was the savings weren’t there,” Snyder said.
Snyder became angry that the $17,000 system he paid for only saved him about $500 a year. After more than a year of fighting, he gave up – until he had a fire.
“The solar system caught fire. The shingles caught fire. It was pretty scary … There was a lot of smoke coming off of that roof,” said Snyder.
The insurance report and investigation revealed that the fire started in the center of one of Snyder’s solar panels. The panel got too hot, fried the wiring and caused the roof to ignite.
“I am totally pissed off, not only at the builder, but the government,” said Snyder.
During Snyder’s solar nightmare, many of his neighbors were also fighting similar battles.
Jennifer Everett and hundreds of others were told three years ago to turn her solar system off because there was a fire risk.
“I have two daughters that are in second grade and I don’t like being in a home where it can catch fire at any point,” said Everett.
Back in June of 2011, Suntech America had a recall of a system similar to what was on Everett’s roof – solar panels that looked like roof shingles. Suntech and the Consumer Product Safety Commission worked to find a solution while homeowners waited in fear.
“I don’t really want to be in a home where I [can’t] go to sleep at night,” said Everett.
Nearly a year later, in May 2012, Everett’s builder Centex sent out a letter stating they had a fix for the panel problem and that repairs would begin immediately.
In July of this year – more than two years after the Suntech recall but before the repair had been completed on all the homes – Everett got another letter from her developer Centex: The fix wasn’t stopping the fires.
Two homes had already caught fire. The letter noted in bold print that they were suspending all repairs and that homeowners should shut down their systems immediately.
Then the neighbor’s house caught fire.
The End of the Road
At their wits end, the Everetts, Snyders and 48 other families contacted an attorney. A class action lawsuit is now currently in the works on behalf of these Roseville communities.
“They bought that specific house because of the solar panels, they wanted the energy savings, they wanted the long term efficiency – and they got something totally opposite. They got a system they can’t use and they’re scared to turn it on because their house may catch fire,” said attorney Matt Schoech.
After Schoech was contacted to fight this battle, he says a letter was sent out telling homeowners that Centrex was going to rip out their system and put in a new, raised panel system.
“I was advised by my attorney not to sign that agreement simply because, if we did that, we are going to release all liability to the builder. If they put those panels on our roof at this point I don’t really trust them,” Everett said.
Some of Schoeh’s clients no longer want any form of solar panels on their roofs – they want their investment back and to move on. Others are excited to have the raised panels installed for free. We tried to contact Centex to ask them about the solar problems they wouldn’t grant us an interview but gave us this statement:
“Throughout this complicated process our top priority has always been to get homeowners solar systems operational as soon as possible. Our goal is to complete the replacement of affected systems by February of 2014.”
Roseville Electric still strongly supports solar; more than 1,300 homes in the community has them. But, the OE-34 panels – the ones causing problems – are no longer allowed to be installed on roofs in Roseville, or California.
“I would tell people to contact the manufacturer, learn how to maintain them and take care of them. There is always risk with anything but we believe it’s relatively safe,” said Vionette McCauley with Roseville Electric.
The biggest problem with solar panels is that many companies are going bankrupt. One report said 55 have closed since 2009, including some of the companies Centex subcontracted to install their solar systems.
It’s important when hiring a solar company to install your system to make sure you verify their insurance. If the company folds, that insurance company will be there to make sure you’re made whole again.
The OE-34 solar panels are no longer aloud to be installed in Roseville or California. Other panels are deemed safe and have been tested in California’s heat to make sure they are safer. It’s important, for whatever you put on your roof, you do your research first.