Congress, administration should look at ties between rooftop solar and lead generators

Consumers must be protected from misleading tactics and false promises of rooftop solar lead generators. Lead generators make it easier for companies to target customers with fraudulent products promising energy savings. The FTC has started to take notice and is looking to crack down on the practice.

Congress, administration should look at ties between rooftop solar and lead generators

As a long time supporter of the renewable energy industry, I continue to be pleased about the expansion of renewable fuels that contribute to the reduction of our carbon footprint. Around my home state of California, and all across the nation – especially in the West, where sunshine is abundant – the proliferation of rooftop solar can be seen in almost every residential neighborhood. This is a good thing.

However, the rapid deployment of rooftop solar panels has also led to the rapid expansion of an industry – known as lead generators – that is often rife with consumer fraud. Lead generators are a type of business that function exactly as their name indicates: generate leads for businesses looking to aggressively grow their customer base. Lead generators can interface with the public through multiple avenues, including online, in person or over the phone. In practice this means they generate business for industries by knocking on people’s doors, sending fliers in the mail, generating telemarketing phone calls or pop-up advertisements on popular websites.

In the case of rooftop solar, lead generators often offer customers promises of significant savings on their electric bills, access to government loan programs, or other offers that require a quick decision in order to take advantage of a special offer. The problem is, apparently many of these promises are misleading, and can pressure customers to make a decision that is against their own financial best interest.

It is known that rooftop solar is a prime target for the lead generation industry.  The upcoming lead generation convention in Las Vegas later this month has a panel on “How to Maximize Your Returns from Solar Leads” and the organizers entice industry participants by promising that the “The solar boom is well underway.” But consumer advocates and investigative journalists have sought to expose this business relationship. A recent article in the The Salt Lake Tribune, found examples of lead generators calling on behalf of the: “Utah Public Utilities Commission — a nonexistent entity that could be mistaken for the Utah Public Service Commission.”

While most Americans have never heard of the lead generator business, the federal government is aware of the industry and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – whose official mission is “Protecting Americas Consumers” – has weighed in with serious concerns and taken actions against the industry. The FTC watches lead generators closely, because they have been at the forefront of many consumer fraud issues, including pressuring people to take loans that led to the mortgage crisis. Just last year, the FTC brought a federal action against a telemarketing firm in California that was targeting millions of Americans on the national Do Not Call Registry. The FTC is so concerned about lead generators, that late last year it produced a report looking at: “some of the consumer protection concerns…complexity and lack of transparency, aggressive or possibly deceptive marketing, and the potential misuse of consumers’ sensitive information.”

Lead generators are typically paid on commission, therefore incentivized to be very aggressive (e.g. ignoring the Do Not Call Registry) to close the deal. These tactics can generate near-term profits for rooftop solar companies, but they can sometimes lead to consumer abuse.

In the same The Salt Lake Tribune article, a representative of the rooftop solar industry explained that ethical rooftop solar companies reject this type of behavior by lead generators. He went on to say that anytime there is a rapid expansion in rooftop solar, that there will be: “a handful of unscrupulous people who are trying to take advantage of people’s ignorance.” The rooftop solar industry also has websites where consumers can go to learn more about rooftop solar and learn how to avoid scams. This is also good and the industry should be commended.

However, lead generators don’t actually sell solar panels – they only sell their leads to interested rooftop solar panel companies. This allows the rooftop solar industry to, on the one hand, decry the actions of lead generators – many of whom operate overseas – but on the other, buy those leads to try and make a sale.

We need government intervention to put an end to bad practices associated with the lead generation business – especially as it relates to rooftop solar. I urge Congress and the Administration to look into this matter, and identify ways to protect consumers. We cannot allow either the rooftop solar industry or the lead generator industry to act with impunity.

Ron Dellums represented California’s 9th District in the United States Congress from 1971–1998, and served as Oakland Mayor from 2007-2010.

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Florida House Committee reviewing bill to protect solar consumers

April 5th Update:

Today the Florida House Ways and Means Committee unanimously passed HB 1351 out of committee. This is the next step in passing important consumer protections for solar customers.

Original Post (March 20)

On Tuesday, March 21st, the Florida House Energy & Utilities Committee will hold a hearing on Rep. Ray Rodrigues’ bill, HB 1351, relating to the installation of solar panels. His bill is a major step forward in protecting consumers’ rights from predatory companies seeking to defraud potential customers in the state of Florida. Rep. Rodrigues’ bill also establishes safety, performance and reliability standards for installation of renewable energy devices including solar panels.

This bill shows Florida’s commitment to safe solar and is an example for other states to follow in protecting their citizens in this growing industry. There are many examples across the country of consumers being defrauded by companies that take advantage of solar energy programs and leave the consumer holding the bag.

The bill’s text is available here. Examples of fraud and safety concerns can be found on our Solar Horror Stories page.

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Clean Energy Financier Hit By ‘Deceptive Loan’ Class Action

A loan company targeting potential solar consumers has been sued by residents of California and Florida claiming the company deceived customers into believing the loans were risk-free and low cost. The loans also prevented customers from selling their homes or getting new mortgages.

By Taylor Arluck

Law360, New York (March 13, 2017, 6:52 PM EDT) — Ygrene Energy Fund Inc., which provides homeowners with financing for clean energy projects, pushed risky loans with undisclosed fees and deceived consumers about government support for the transactions, a proposed class action has alleged in California federal court.

California and Florida homeowners contend that a network of 3,200 “ill-trained and self-interested home improvement contractors” maximized profits by pushing Ygrene Energy’s Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, loans on them without properly disclosing prepayment penalties and fees. The contractors also didn’t tell consumers that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac wouldn’t purchase or refinance mortgages on a property with an outstanding PACE loan, according to the complaint filed on March 9.

“Ygrene deceives consumers into believing the PACE loan is a risk-free, no-strings-attached program, backed by government support that allows immediate energy efficiency improvements to a home in exchange for nothing more than increased property tax assessments,” according to the complaint.

The PACE loans are financial instruments that allow homeowners to opt into a special assessment district to receive financing for energy improvements repaid through an annual property tax assessment, according to the complaint. The homeowners alleged Ygrene Energy Fund marketed the loans as a “smart alternative to traditional credit-based financing.”

In reality, the PACE loans functioned as additional mortgages that can’t be transferred to future buyers and that contain inadequately disclosed, surreptitiously added prepayment waiver fees, according to the complaint. The homeowners alleged that the loan structure makes it “impossible or nearly impossible” for them to sell their homes without first paying off the loan and incurring a large prepayment penalty.

The primary financing instrument for PACE loans are municipal revenue bonds secured by liens. The loan program originated in California in 2008, but in 2010 the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, raised concerns over the seniority of liens that led to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refusing to buy mortgages with affiliated PACE loans, according to the complaint.

The homeowners alleged Ygrene Energy Fund knew the FHFA policy would force consumers to satisfy their PACE loans before being able to sell their homes but failed to disclose it.

A Ygrene Energy Fund representative said the company was confident in its PACE financing.

“We take these matters seriously and at the same time we feel there’s no merit to the case,” Mike Lemyre, a Ygrene Energy Fund representative, told Law360 Monday.

Manuel S. Hiraldo, a partner at Hiraldo PA who represents the homeowners, declined to comment on the pending litigation Monday.

Grachian L. Smith and other homeowners are represented by Kasdan LippSmith Weber Turner LLP, Tycko & Zavareei LLP and Hiraldo PA.

Attorneys from Kasdan LippSmith Weber Turner LLP and Tycko & Zavareei LLP for the proposed subclasses did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Counsel information for Ygrene Energy Fund was not immediately available Monday.

The case is Grachian L. Smith et al. v. Ygrene Energy Fund Inc. et al., case number 3:17-cv-01258, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

–Editing by Jill Coffey.

Originally posted at:

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SolarCity’s Ties to Foreclosure Cases Raise Questions on Vetting Policies

The company, owned by Tesla, relies on monthly payments from solar panel customers. But foreclosures can halt those payments, and SolarCity relies on only one credit check to vet customers.

SolarCity’s Ties to Foreclosure Cases Raise Questions on Vetting Policies

SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels and a renewable energy darling, has pitched its value to investors on a simple premise: Once customers sign up to lease a system, they will make payments to the company month after month for at least 20 years.

But even when the customers look good enough on paper, it does not always work out that way.

In dozens of cases over the last three years, The New York Times has found, SolarCity has reached long-term lease agreements with homeowners shortly before or even after they defaulted on mortgages. In at least 14 cases, the homeowners were already in default, or had other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity filed paperwork about the panels with the government.

The cases raise questions about how well the company vets customers. In addition, it is unclear how many foreclosure lawsuits involve the company over all.

In September, a lawyer for SolarCity, Mohammed Ahmed Gangat, filed a document in New York state court arguing that the company needed to file another document late because it had in recent months been “inundated with hundreds of lawsuits in New York, and thousands across the country, all of which have named SolarCity as a defendant in a residential foreclosure action.”

But when asked about that filing, SolarCity said that it was currently involved in far fewer cases — 139 — and that the lawyer had been mistaken. The company said the court filing had been made without the company’s reviewing or approving it. Mr. Gangat is not a SolarCity employee.

“Out of more than 305,000 installed customers, SolarCity is currently involved in 139 such proceedings,” the company said in a statement. “The litigation is not adversarial — being named in the foreclosure proceeding provides us with advance notice that we need to reassign a contract, and many are immediately resolved with the relevant bank.”

The company is also involved in foreclosure proceedings outside the courts but said it could not say how many.

Mr. Gangat did not immediately respond to calls or emails.

If the lawyer’s figures are correct, SolarCity, which is now owned by the automaker Tesla, may be facing a threat to its financial performance that it has not disclosed to the government and investors. The foreclosures can lead to a pause, or an end, of the lucrative monthly payments customers pay for the leases.

If the lawyer’s figures are false, he could face disciplinary proceedings under ethics rules, depending on the circumstances. The company said it was planning to have the document filed in court on its behalf corrected.

In either situation, details of the cases identified by The Times raise questions about how well the company, relying on one credit check, vets potential customers.

What SolarCity offers its customers is simple in theory: savings on their electricity bills from the solar panels glistening on their roofs.

The company often pays most or all of the bill for the installation, worth $25,000 to $30,000 on average, and charges the customer an agreed-upon rate for the electricity the panels produce, typically 10 to 15 percent less than they would normally pay for power. In return, SolarCity receives steady monthly payments.

In the years since the company’s founding in 2006, it has lowered the FICO score, the widely used credit score created by the Fair Isaac Corporation, it requires to get its solar panels. It now uses a score of 650, generally considered a “fair” rating, as the cutoff.

But often, the score is assessed several months before a solar panel system is installed and registered — plenty of time for financial circumstances to change.

“For a consumer with a sub-700 score, it’s likely that there are already some indicators of risk there, but not a severe one to that particular lender, I guess, at that point,” said Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, a credit reporting agency.

SolarCity is not the only company to find itself in the midst of such lawsuits. Sunrun, a competitor, has been named in a small number of cases.

The foreclosure lawsuits do not appear to have made much of a dent in SolarCity’s bottom line. When a customer loses a home to a bank in foreclosure, the company also risks losing income from its energy system unless it can reach a deal to take the system back or contract with the new homeowners. Company executives say that even after figuring in foreclosures, more than 99 percent of contracts are ultimately reassigned, relocated or paid off in advance.

Executives at the company have never expressed much worry about the risks of foreclosures, boasting that customers tend to pay their electricity bills even when they are not paying anything else. “We have customers that are foreclosed,” Lyndon Rive, chief executive of SolarCity, said in an interview in 2012. “They’re still paying their electric bill, so they still pay us.”

When a customer loses a home to a bank, the ownership of the solar panels can become unclear. Banks often consider them part of the overall property as fixtures. SolarCity has argued that the panels are its “personal property.”

The company has succeeded in convincing some banks that the panels are not fixtures, according to court records. But several foreclosure lawyers who have not been involved with these cases said SolarCity might face an uphill battle, especially if it does not act in court to protect its ownership interest in the panels.

“SolarCity needs to contest every foreclosure to have any realistic chance of getting either paid for or the return of their solar panels,” said Christopher McCormick, a lawyer in Connecticut who spent a decade representing banks in foreclosure proceedings and now defends homeowners in the cases.

“Those panels are pretty valuable,” he said. “It makes sense that the company would not want to lose them.”

Even if foreclosures are a problem for SolarCity, its services may help some customers get by during rough financial times. Alexis Hickerson, a resident of West Haven, Conn., said she had the company install panels while she was still trying to work out a deal with her bank to keep her home after she and her husband lost money on investments.

According to court records, Ms. Hickerson stopped paying her mortgage on Feb. 1, 2016. SolarCity filed paperwork with the government on May 6, 2016, about the installation. Ms. Hickerson said she was now going through a short sale of her home.

Ms. Hickerson said her power bills had been lower with SolarCity. The company, she said, will be able to either lease its panels to the new buyers of her home or remove them.

“I am happy with SolarCity,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s one thing that hasn’t been a problem.”

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Lawmakers Seek Rooftop Solar Probe

Three House Democrats – Henry Cuellar (Texas), Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.) and Bennie Thompson (Miss.) – are asking CFPB to investigate “unethical business practices” among some “bad actors” in the rooftop solar industry. “Our fear is if bad actors continue to operate unrestrained, the industry’s reputation will be so tainted that American consumers will shy away from embracing this important form of clean energy,” they write in a letter obtained by ME Thursday.

Full letter available to subscribers at:

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Why solar panels frustrate firefighters

Firefighters are having trouble fighting solar panel fires. It is dangerous to the first responders because of fear of electrocution, buildings collapsing from the weight, and limited access to the center of the fire. The panels also make it challenging to get the fire out because a fire on the roof disables the source of ventilation and makes it even harder.

Why solar panels frustrate firefighters

New Jersey’s growing solar energy industry is creating some new hazards for firefighters and prompting the firefighting community and solar industry officials to develop new safety measures.

Firefighters say rooftop solar panel systems are in many cases limiting their ability to vent smoke from burning buildings, and firefighters must contend with panels that produce electrical current and can’t be shut down as long as the sun is shining.

“It changes the way we fight a fire,” said Atlantic County Fire Training Director Michael Corbo. “It’s a safety issue.”

Solar industry officials acknowledge the concerns and say they’re involved in research to limit the potential danger firefighters and other first responders face from live solar panels. They also said recently enacted fire code regulations in New Jersey require access aisles through the rows of solar panels that often cover the expansive flat roofs of everything from industrial buildings to schools.

Dan Whitten, spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C., said the organization continues to support better building, fire and electrical codes and technological advances to improve safety for first responders.

“In fact, we have sought out opportunities to collaborate with firefighters on code and standards development such as improved firefighter access pathways, system-based fire testing methods and rapid shutdown system design that result in state-of-the-art solutions,” he said.

Some of those solutions don’t have to be elaborate.

All but about a dozen properties in Vineland are serviced by the city-owned Vineland Municipal Electric Utility.

The utility provides the Fire Department with the addresses of buildings on which solar panels are installed so firefighters know what to expect before arriving on the scene, said Vineland Fire Chief Bob Pagnini. There is no reason why, in other municipalities, either the companies that install the panels or the regular electricity provider can’t provide similar notifications, he said.

Such a notification wouldn’t be onerous, said Lyle Rawlings, president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, which covers New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The notice could be included in the packet of forms a company must fill out for municipal code enforcement offices before starting a project.

Rawlings said while he’s heard the concerns from firefighters for some time, he doesn’t see finding solutions as being a combative situation between the solar industry and firefighters. Both sides are still learning how to cope with the impact of new technology, he said.

New Jersey ranks fourth in the United States in installed solar capacity with 1,695 megawatts, according to the Solar Energies Industries Association. More than 1,700 more megawatts of solar electric capacity are expected to be installed in the state during the next five years, according to the organization.

With that explosion of solar arrays comes problems for firefighters.

For instance, about 7,000 solar panels on the roof of a burning warehouse in Delanco, Burlington County, caused access problems for firefighters in September 2013. Six months later, firefighters said they faced electrocution risks from the panels in controlling a blaze at a warehouse in Berlin Township, Camden County.

Last month, firefighters battling a blaze in Providence, Rhode Island, said their efforts were marred by concerns that the extra weight from solar panels could cause a premature roof collapse. A recent fire in Merrick, New York, caused some solar panels to melt and fall on firefighters.

Corbo said the state holds information classes related to dealing with fire and solar panels twice a year. Atlantic County will hold a similar course depending on the number of firefighters interested in attending, he said.

“The majority of the fire service knows about the solar panel issue,” he said.

But roof access continues to be major problem, Corbo said. Firefighters unable to vent smoke through roofs now have to vent the materials in a more horizontal, side-to-side manner through windows or walls, he said. Firefighters may not want to work inside some structures for fear of premature roof collapse aided by the weight of a solar panel, he said.

“We have to adapt,” he said.

Rawlings said some of the new technologies include devices that attach to each solar panel and prevent electric current from leaving the panel, further limiting electrocution concerns. The solar panels will continue to be “hot,” he said, and remain so as long as there is sunlight.

“Common sense still applies” for firefighters dealing with solar panels during the course of their duties, he said. Wearing insulated gloves is one protective measure, he said.

But even with all the new safety advances, Rawlings estimates there are still about 45,000 solar arrays built under old fire, electrical and construction codes.

“Firefighters are still going to be faced with older systems that don’t meet the new codes,” he said. “They will continue to need training on how these systems work.”

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SOLAR FLARE Pensioner’s home gutted after its cash-saving solar panels ‘set fire to the roof’

An elderly woman’s home was set ablaze from a fire started by the solar panels on the roof. It did not take long for the weight to cause the roof to collapse resulting in even more damage to the home. The panels intended to be cash saving culminated in tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to the home.

SOLAR FLARE Pensioner’s home gutted after its cash-saving solar panels ‘set fire to the roof’

Firefighters rescue three cats from the blaze which caused tens of thousands of pounds damage

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Judge voids hundreds of solar leases in Arizona

The owner of Salt River Solar in Arizona was sent to prison and hundreds of his customers were released from their lease with the company because fraud was so rampant. Problems were reported statewide involving equipment that was paid for and never installed, equipment that did not work, and lack of promised service.

Judge voids hundreds of solar leases in Arizona

, The Republic |

Published 10:50 p.m. MT June 22, 2015

Fraud was so rampant at a now-defunct rooftop-solar-installation company in Surprise that the owner is not only serving a five-year prison term, but a judge has released hundreds of customers from their leases with the company.

Michael Allen Fricker, 55, owned Salt River Solar and Wind, which installed rooftop solar arrays throughout Arizona.

Fricker was sentenced last month to five years in prison by Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley of Tucson, who also released 1,157 customers from their leases.

Most of those customers never saw their solar panels installed, even though many had paid deposits. But 344 customers who did receive installations are among those released from their leases, court records say. It’s unclear whether any have been making monthly lease payments or if they paid leases up-front, whether they stopped paying when the company went out of business two years ago.

“This person was a serial financial predator,” said Ryan Anderson, director of communications for the Attorney General’s Office, which worked with the FBI on the case. “Mr. Fricker was engaged in a pattern of fraud that extended beyond his activities in Tucson.”

Anderson said the Attorney General’s Office was flooded with complaints statewide for problems involving equipment that was paid for but never installed, equipment that did not work properly, and customers who did not receive promised service.

Salt River Solar and Wind ceased operations in 2013 after the Registrar of Contractors revoked its license, but the Attorney General’s Office and the FBI continued their investigation.

Public records suggest Salt River Solar and Wind installed about 500 leased solar arrays in SRP and APS territories from 2009 to 2012, and hundreds of additional systems were canceled in 2012 as the company ran into trouble.

Some Tucson Electric Power customers could be eligible for restitution because Fricker’s activities in that utility’s territory were what the AG’s Office and the FBI targeted for prosecution.

Tucson trouble

Fricker required at least 25 TEP customers to pay him both an up-front deposit and the value of the TEP rebate they would get for the solar setup, with the promise they would get the rebate when it was paid, according to a criminal investigation by the Tucson office of the FBI’s Phoenix division.

But when TEP paid those rebates, totaling thousands of dollars in most cases, Fricker never paid it back to the customers.

Fricker was indicted on multiple felony charges in January 2014. On Oct. 29, he was convicted of fraudulent schemes and artifices, and illegally conducting an enterprise. He agreed to pay up to $1 million in restitution.

He could have avoided prison, but the FBI found Fricker violating a term of his plea agreement by marketing solar products in California, court records say.

The court revoked Fricker’s release conditions and ordered him held at the Pima County Jail pending sentencing. On May 18, McGinley sentenced Fricker to prison.

“That’s where he needs to be,” said Carol Girvan of Tucson. “We are on a long list of people that have been swindled by Mr. Fricker.”

Girvan and her husband, Paul, paid Fricker’s company $17,800 in 2011 for a solar system. Fricker agreed to repay them $15,500 from TEP when the utility paid the rebate on their solar panels.

The panels were installed, though far behind schedule. TEP paid the money to Fricker, but he never paid the couple.

“When you are a senior citizen, and a veteran like my husband, this is a life savings for us that we will never recoup,” Girvan said.

Her neighbor is even worse off, Girvan said, because the neighbor paid Fricker but never saw the solar system installed, she said.

The Girvans can’t collect on the service agreement they were promised because the company is defunct.

“If anything happens to the panels, now they are our responsibility,” she said. “You feel like you are a victim twice.”

Federal problems

Salt River Solar and Wind also had problems with a federal tax-credit program, which is likely the reason the company struggled financially.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, developers were offered grants to cover 30 percent of the cost of solar installations. Normally, developers get a 30 percent tax credit, but the cash grants were meant to kick-start the industry during the economic downturn.

Program rules required developers to complete installations before they could apply for reimbursement. But funding was not guaranteed, and even after systems were built, the government delayed approval of some applications and denied others.

U.S. Treasury records indicate that Salt River Solar and Wind was paid for systems that were never installed. It also was rejected or denied payment for some systems that were placed in service.

Many customers paid their leases up-front, so releasing them from the contract won’t save them any money.

That is the case with Richard Moon. He and his wife own the Moonlight Manor assisted-living facility in Surprise.

They paid about $60,000 up-front for a solar lease with Salt River Solar and Wind.

Moon said the installation took longer than expected, and that the company never delivered the software promised that would help track the electricity production of the system.

He also said that because the company went out of business, he had to call in another company to perform about $500 of maintenance that should have been done by Salt River Solar and Wind.

Potential victims of Salt River Solar and Wind are encouraged to contact Amy Bocks with the Attorney General’s Office at Claims must be submitted to the court by Aug. 14.

Michael Fricker and his wife, Theresa, also were accused in a civil lawsuit in 2012 of committing fraud, and a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered them to pay more than $265,000 plus court costs and attorney’s fees.

Court records also show that in 2000, Fricker was convicted in Oregon on a misdemeanor charge of writing a bad check and a felony charge of forgery. Records show he was sentenced to two years’ probation.

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Crews battle fire at Apple facility in Mesa

An Apple facility to be used as a data processing plant endured a rooftop fire from solar panels. The building was evacuated and 3 different fire station crews were called to the scene to prevent the fire from spreading inside.

Crews battle fire at Apple facility in Mesa

11:40 AM, May 26, 2015

Officials battled a second-alarm fire at an Apple facility in Mesa on Tuesday morning.

Mesa Fire Department said the fire started shortly before 11:30 a.m. near Elliot and Signal Butte Roads.

The fire appeared to be on solar panels on the roof of the building over a loading dock. The fire did not appear to be burning inside the building itself, officials said.

Mesa firefighters said a second alarm was called partially because the facility is so large. “We also wanted to make sure we get a great deal of resources here in the event that we had to section off this fire and keep it from spreading to different parts of the building,” said Forrest Smith with Mesa Fire.  “It gives us the resources and the equipment that in the event this fire took off on us, we could really surround it and keep it from spreading.”

Crews from Mesa, Gilbert and Superstition Fire worked together to get the fire knocked down in 35 minutes.

About 50 employees had to be evacuated and there were no reports of any injuries.

Apple has plans to use the building as a data processing plant.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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Solar panels catch on fire at dentist office in Latham

A dental office went into flames because of solar panel malfunctions forcing the dental office and adjacent chiropractic office to evacuate. The fire caused challenges for the fire department because the panels harness so much energy at the roof where firemen usually rely on on ventilation.

Solar panels catch on fire at dentist office in Latham


Fire officials said solar panels on a building may be the cause of a fire Friday morning.

The fire happened just before 10 a.m. on Route 9 just north of the circle. A dental office and a chiropractor’s office are both located in that building and had to be evacuated. Route 9 was closed in both directions.

Authorities said the fire started on the roof, and it was likely caused by a solar panel malfunctioning.

“I heard the boom,” Dr. Jocelyn Tameta said. “So I looked out the window and there’s smoke coming out, and next thing you know, everybody is saying, ‘Get out of the building. The roof is on fire.’”

Tameta’s dental practice is on the second floor of the building. The building owner said the solar panels were installed about five years ago, and they have not had any problems.

“It’s not common,” Steven Kasselman of Kasselman Solar said. “It’s actually very rare.”

Kasselman is the president and CEO of Kasselman Solar. His company didn’t install the panels on the Route 9 building, but he explained that the system in place is older and uses DC electricity, which he said is more dangerous than AC electricity.

“We install what’s called micro inverters, which isolate the DC string to each individual solar panel,” he said. “So essentially, all of our systems only have AC electricity on the roof.”

Latham Fire Chief Thomas Bergin said it was a challenging blaze, and the flames spread into the attic, which meant their plan of attack had to be different.

“There’s a lot of energy in those panels, and of course, they’re on the roof where we need to ventilate,” he said.

Officials said no one was injured, but there was substantial damage to the dental office.

The tenants did have fire insurance, but it’s unclear how long it will take to repair the damage.

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