Tesla whistleblower over sunburn questioned in CPSC investigation

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A US federal agency is considering a former Tesla employee’s complaint about how the company managed and communicated about fire risks and defects in its solar power plants, OilGasJobz has learned from documents received through a request for freedom of information.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is continuing its investigation and also interviewed former Tesla employee who filed the complaint in the spring of 2019, Steven Henkes, who was then a Tesla Solar Field Quality Manager wash.

OilGasJobz inquired about the investigation by asking the CPSC for a full copy of the whistleblower. The agency did not want to file the full complaint, but revealed: “The records we are withholding relate to an open investigation and consist of internal and external reports.” The exact scope and focus of the investigation is not yet known.

Henkes is also suing Tesla for retaliation.

In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County in November 2020, Henkes said he was fired from his job at Tesla on August 3, 2020, after raising internal safety issues internally and then filing formal complaints with government offices then Tesla could not act to communicate accurately with customers about what he said were unacceptable fire risks in the company’s solar power plants.

Henkes believes “there is still a real threat to fires due to serial defects in the Tesla installations”, according to an email from his lawyer, Robert Wallace. “Consumers are not adequately informed about the risks,” the statement said.

Tesla entered the solar business at the end of 2016 when it acquired SolarCity for $ 2.6 billion. Tesla Energy (formerly SolarCity) installs, among other things, photovoltaic roof, ground and carport solar energy systems.

While Tesla does not on its own break out of solar power, ‘energy generation and storage’ accounted for only 6% of the company’s total revenue in 2020, but it grew by 30% from last year, according to the year-end 2020. financial filing. In a call on January 27, Musk told analysts: “We pay a lot of attention to solar power and it’s growing fast. I think it will not be long before Tesla is by far the market leader in solar power.”

Tesla’s systems are installed in homes, including military housing units by Fort Bliss and other bases, schools in the LA United School District, and commercial facilities, including Walmart stores and Amazon warehouses.

As OilGasJobz reported earlier, Tesla solar power plants had previously caught fire. In August 2019, Walmart sued Tesla for negligence after systems on the roof installed by Tesla Energy ignited at several Walmart locations.

In court documents, Walmart said that Tesla had failed to properly monitor, repair and maintain these systems even after the fires took place. The fires caused significant damage and faulty systems posed serious risks to employees, customers and business, according to Walmart’s complaint.

On November 5, 2019, the companies issued a joint statement saying they are looking forward to “a safe reorganization of our sustainable energy systems.” ‘The exact terms of the settlement of the companies – and the costs for Tesla – have never been announced.

None of the companies responded immediately to requests for comment on the CPSC investigation.

According to Greg Sellers, CEO of a solar maintenance and repair company in Morgan Hill, California, the risk of fires is still very low in solar photovoltaic systems, whether they are home or large-scale systems. Research by Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Power Systems backs up his observation from the field.

Without commenting specifically on Tesla, Sellers explained: “For those in the repair and safety side, any incident is too much. Fires are still very rare. That’s why they get so much publicity when it happens.” He says it is generally more likely that a fire is caused by a failed installation practice than an interruption of components. And he notes that the installation of solar power has gotten better as these systems multiply.

Public safety concerns

OilGasJobz has asked the CPSC – a federal agency tasked with “protecting consumers from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical or mechanical hazard”, to file a copy of Henkes’ full complaint after it was filed in court. referred to in the fourth quarter. 2020.

Abioye Ella Mosheim, chief official of the Freedom of Information Act, dismissed the CPSC, citing a release for records related to a public inquiry. She wrote: “The records you requested are from the CPSC’s field of law enforcement and active law enforcement records.”

Henkes did not want to speak directly to OilGasJobz, but answered some questions by email through his attorney Robert Wallace.

He confirmed that the CPSC interviewed Henkes and asked the former Tesla employee to submit additional material to the agency. The items that Henkes filed in a “CP-15” complaint with the federations include:

· Reports of failure analysis of a third-party engineering firm

· Internal meeting minutes, reports and e-mail

· Examples of customer notification

· Photos of thermal events linked to customer homes

· Meetings and presentations regarding a supplier named Amphenol and Tesla

Henkes wants Tesla to reconsider its clarity with the customer, ‘his lawyer said on his behalf. The former employee was implementing a permanent countermeasure for the issues he found before he was fired, the lawyer added. However, Henkes claims that at the end of his tenure at Tesla, he was “constantly foiled and then fired because he continued to work for public safety”.

Another former Tesla solar worker, who asked to remain anonymous because he still works in the solar power industry, confirmed many of Henkes’ allegations from the public lawsuit.

In particular, this person said that many of Tesla’s solar system installations, especially including certain roof components and Amphenol H4 connectors, pose a significant fire risk and that the efforts to repair and adapt Tesla were not transparent or effective. They also said the company still has not fixed or removed all systems with known fire risks.

Tesla previously outsourced clean-up efforts and the maintenance of its aging solar fleet, but is now canceling at least some of the contracts and bringing the process back, according to the former employee.

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