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Tipline Investigation: Tesla Solar faces long list of customer complaints

NIPOMO, Calif. - Solar Power seems to be a bright spot in today’s goal to achieve a clean energy future. One of the most powerful forces behind that effort is Tesla with its electric vehicles, charging stations and its home solar systems.

But, as you’re about to find out, some people are paying a very high price.

As we approached Bridget Davis's home we could see the solar panels stacked up on the side of the house covered in leaves. They’ve been there for years.

“If I knew how Tesla supported, or lack thereof, their system I never would have purchased a home with solar panels on it,” said Davis.

Bridget Davis bought her Nipomo home in 2015. The prior owner had installed solar panels from a company called Solar City, which Tesla purchased a year later.

Around that same time, Davis noticed her PG&E electric bill didn’t reflect the solar credits she was supposed to get. So, she called tech support.

“She said, ‘Well could you count them for me?’ and I said sure, I counted to my memory 5 or 6 panels. And she said, ‘that’s a big part of your problem right there. You’re supposed to have 12,’” said Davis.

Davis said Tesla agreed to add more panels at no cost to her. However, she said Tesla tricked her. The paperwork she signed was not for repairs, but for a new $10,600 solar system. She said that system didn’t work either, and that Tesla refused to fix it even though she kept making the payments.

“What’s the balance still left on it?” asked NewsChannel reporter C.J. Ward. “It’s about $9,600,” said Davis. “You’ve been paying for almost 8 years and you’ve only paid down the principal by a thousand?” asked Ward. “That’s correct,” said Davis.

Davis said things got worse. She started to notice leaks inside her house. So she called an expert.

“First thing I noticed was, why are there two solar systems on a very small house? Seeing two inverters mounted to the side of the house. I had never seen that in my 30 years of being a contractor,” said James Fowler.

Fowler also said the solar panels were mounted on the wrong side of the house, where there’s little sun and he said Tesla damaged the roof when it installed the panels, that’s what caused the leaks. Fowler said he tried to get Tesla to remove the panels and haul them away.

“They never showed up. We kept calling and saying, ‘We need to do this, we need to fix the roof this is the rainy season,’” said Fowler.

But, Tesla never responded so Fowler removed the solar panels in 2021 and discovered they were never connected! He put the panels on the side of the house, replaced the roof and repaired the damage. The cost, about 18-thousand dollars.

“It’s just an absolute nightmare. Complete runaround, dangerous installation, damage to the house, damage to the stucco, damage to the roof, electrical installed incorrectly,” said Fowler.

Davis has been through a lot with Tesla, but she’s been in tough fights before.

She’s an Army Veteran and she refuses to give up. That’s why she called the NewsChannel Tipline.

We started digging and found other Tesla customers with similar problems. We also found the State of California has taken disciplinary action against Tesla Energy, which includes its Solar division. Just this year, Tesla has been cited for ‘Misrepresentation to obtain a contract’, Abandoning projects and departing from trade practices, just to name a few. Tesla is appealing.

Fowler also said Tesla didn’t pull permits for the work it did on Davis’ house, then tried to cover it up years later.

“They were clearly aware that the work they had done was unpermitted and illegal and they tried to cover their butt by sending a guy out to take advantage of the homeowner who doesn’t know any better,” said Fowler.

Your NewsChannel has tried repeatedly to get Tesla’s side of the story, from phone calls, to emails, we even sent a direct message to Tesla’s owner, Elon Musk. So far, all of our attempts have been ignored.

We also went to Tesla offices in Santa Maria.

“We’re from Channel 3 out of Santa Barbara. We’re trying to reach somebody here. We’ve been leaving messages and nobody’s been calling us. We’re calling about problems our consumers have had," said Ward. “I don’t know nothing about that,” said the Tesla employee. “Do you have a supervisor here?" asked Ward. “Unfortunately, we don’t. Not right now.”

He agreed however, to pass along my contact information to his superiors and ask them to call me, which they never did.

“I’m not here to get millions from these guys. I just want them to do the right thing,” said Davis.

Tesla called Davis after we got involved. She said Tesla simply refuses to take responsibility for the money she lost and the damage they caused. 

On Tuesday, Tesla sent a settlement offer to Davis. It said in a nutshell, It's willing to pay Davis 10-thousand dollars, but only if we did not air this story. What does that sound like to you?  Davis immediately rejected that offer.

Again, we've repeatedly reached out to Tesla for a comment. So far no response.

By the way, Davis stopped making those payments.

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C.J. Ward

C.J. Ward is the evening anchor for KEYT News Channel 3 and the station’s lead investigative reporter. To learn more about C.J., click here


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