Tag: "centex"

09/30/13

  10:45:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 531 words  
Categories: Solar News, Residential Solar, Safety, Ranting

Centex Steps Up - Will Replace Faulty Solar Systems

We have previously reported on - and been critical of - the handling of defective solar tile systems installed in new “solar” homes built by Centex. Now we are happy to report that after much delay, Centex is stepping up to the plate and replacing defective solar tile systems with new, conventional solar arrays. Here’s our update.

Centex "solar home"

Centex Solar Home in Pleasanton, CA

First some background - between 2006 and 2009, Centex built “solar” homes like the one at the right in Pleasanton, California.  These homes featured solar roofing tiles that became the subject of a recall by the Consumer Products Safety Commission and were manufactured by Open Energy Corporation, which became Applied Solar, Inc., which became Applied Solar LLC - which then went bankrupt and ceased operations.

That left Centex to address these problems and as we previously noted, they were taking their time in doing so and were asking homeowners to sign an especially pernicious release of rights before agreeing to undertake repairs.  Then this summer, Centex stopped making repairs altogether after a series of fires broke out in homes that had been “repaired".  Clearly what was needed was for the old tiles to be completely removed, the roof restored and a new, conventional solar array installed.

Well now we are happy to report that Centex has agreed to do exactly that.

From a letter the company sent out to homeowners on September 25:

Based on an independent review of the OE-34 panels, Centex is not confident in their long-term viability and safety. Because of this, we are pleased to inform you that we will replace all existing OE-34 solar panels with new solar panels at no cost to homeowners. This includes all homeowners who have previously had their systems repaired.

In short, we believe resuming repairs is simply not sufficient to address the issues with the original solar panel system. When repairs were suspended and investigations underway, all homeowners were instructed to turn off their systems. We remind you to continue to keep your solar system turned off until the new system is installed.

Our goal is to replace all existing solar panel systems by February 2014. This replacement schedule is aggressive, but we have retained several companies to conduct the necessary work that entails: removal of current solar system panels, installation of new roof tiles in their place, and installation of a new raised-panel solar system. We estimate that it will take approximately two days per home for the removal and installation process.

This is very good news indeed and we applaud the decision by Centex to take this step.  Finally these homeowners will have the “benefit of their bargain” and once again have the opportunity to live in a solar home.

The letter identified the solar modules to be used as coming from either Hanwha or ET Solar and had links for more information about each of those.  Unfortunately, those links appear to be broken so we have uploaded the datasheets for the identified solar modules.  Here they are:

We will continue to monitor this story and we encourage affected homeowners to provide us with info about their experiences with this repair and replacement program in the comments below.

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08/19/13

  08:56:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 866 words  
Categories: Solar News, Residential Solar, Safety, Ranting

Centex Suspends Solar Repairs

We’ve written before about the problems with solar roofing tiles on homes built by Centex, one of the nation’s largest home builders.  Now we have heard that they are suspending their repair program, leaving homeowners with no recourse but to shut down their systems.  Here’s our update.

Last December we wrote about how Centex was dragging its feet on repairing faulty solar roof tile systems in “solar homes” that they built.  Despite a mandated recall from the Consumer Products Safety Commission, Centex was demanding that homeowners sign an overreaching release form before they would begin repairs.  In the meantime, homeowners had been advised to turn their systems off to avoid a possible risk of fire. Here was the release language that concerned us:

Release.  In consideration of completion of the CPSC Repair [i.e., repair of the solar tiles] owner releases and fully discharges Centex Homes from any and all liabilities, claims, causes of action, or damages of whatever nature, character, type or description, which Owner may have or may incur in the future, arising out of, or in any way connected with component parts, being replaced/added under the CPSC Repair.

(Emphasis added.)

We wrote then that it seemed unfair to make an innocent homeowner either release all of their rights regarding future problems or be denied the “benefit of their bargain” regarding owning a solar powered home.

Now we are getting word from affected homeowners that Centex has completely suspended its repair program in light of new fires that have occurred in allegedly repaired homes.  Here is a copy of an email that Centex sent out to homeowners in July:

Dear Centex Homeowner:

Thank you for taking the time to read this update regarding your solar panels.

As you are aware, after months of working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Suntech, Eagle Solar, and Sonoran Roofing, recall protocol repairs involving OE-34 solar panels began November of 2012. Once repairs are completed by Sonoran Roofing on a home pursuant to the Consumer Product Safety Commission protocol, and required testing has occurred, homeowners have been turning their systems back on. The vast majority of homes repaired have had no issue after the recall repair was performed. Recently, however, two homeowners have experienced fires at some point after turning their systems on.

In late March of this year we were contacted by a homeowner who had a fire start at one of their solar panels. Upon completion of expert investigation by independent inspectors it was determined the fire originated at a single defective panel. The fire was not linked to the recall repair performed earlier on that home; rather, it was due to a defective tile manufactured by the solar panel company.

We were recently contacted by another homeowner who had a fire start at their solar panels earlier this month. We are currently working with independent inspectors from multiple companies to determine the cause of this recent fire. It is imperative that we know whether the cause was another defective panel or some other issue.

Until such time as we determine the cause of this fire and are confident that repairs can safely continue we are suspending all repairs. We expect to have the results of the investigation in the next 4-6 weeks. Once we have those results we will contact you again to advise you of the findings and the status of future repairs.

It is our direction, based on that fact that there have now been two reported fires involving these particular solar panels, that you shut your solar power system down immediately until further notice if your system is currently running. We advise you to keep your system off until notified otherwise.

Again, please make sure your solar power system is completely shut off until further notice.

If you have an urgent issue, please contact our office at Norcal@Centex.com. Otherwise, we will update you as soon as we have any new information. Please be assured that we want these repairs completed as quickly as possible, but we will not sacrifice safety for speed. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Sincerely,

Centex Homes Northern California Division

(Underlining in the original; other emphasis added.)

Now we have no complaint with not wanting to “sacrifice safety for speed", but it seem that at least so far, Centex has provided neither.  One of the homeowners who contacted us indicated that a neighbor’s house had also suffered a fire in their roof as well - bringing the total to at least three fires associated with these systems, since the Centex repair program began.

The existence of these fires makes the pernicious release that Centex was trying to extract from homeowners even more disturbing.  Based on the language above, if a Centex customer had signed that release, allowed Centex to send in its repair team, and then suffered a fire caused by the solar roofing tile system, Centex would have no liability or obligation toward that customer at all.

We contacted Centex at the email above last week seeking comment but aside from an automated reply we have not received any response from the company.

As always, we welcome any comments from affected readers and if we hear back from Centex we will update this post.

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12/12/12

  11:46:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1768 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding, Feed-in Tariff, Westridge PAC Project, 2012

Top 10 Posts of 2012

MistletoeYear-end is often a time for retrospection, and few things are more popular this time of year then Top 10 Lists (unless it is kissing under the Mistletoe - to which we say, feel free to combine both!).  We decided to look back over our dozens of posts this year and highlight the 10 most popular based on our viewership data.

Each of these posts was viewed more than fifteen hundred times - which leaves us both humbled and very thankful indeed.

So here they are, our Top 10 Posts for 2012 (click on a title to read the post in full)…

#10 - SolarCity Files for IPO

One of the big stories of the year has been the on-again, off-again, on-again story of SolarCity’s proposed Initial Public Offering.  While cleantech IPOs have not been a very pretty site, there was much buzz about the SolarCity IPO as being a potential bellwether for a change in “green” fortunes.  SolarCity’s original confidential filing with the SEC coincided with a remarkable repricing of their systems as recorded in the CSI data:

Oddity - SolarCity's dramatic price reduction

By the time the IPO was publicly revealed in October, it was clear that one of the major risk factors facing potential investors was how the U.S. Treasury would treat the question of how SolarCity had valued its systems for purpose of claiming federal tax dollars.  A question, which we would note, still remains to be fully answered but the preliminary indications are not good for SolarCity and its existing investors.  For example, SolarCity revealed that for a limited number of systems, Treasury had reduced the allowable price per Watt from $6.87 to $6.00 for California systems and from $6.20 to $5.00 for Arizona - reductions of 12.6% and 19.3% respectively.  When applied to the $341 million SolarCity says it has claimed so far, that could be a $43 million haircut.

As of this writing, SolarCity is now saying it will go forward with a revised offering at $8/share - down nearly 43% from the midpoint of its earlier proposed range of $13-15.  Stay tuned, this story is far from over.

#9 - Q: What is more popular than Solar? A: Nothing!

In an election year it was not surprising that some echoes of that contest found their way into the posts for this blog.  One interesting point was the survey data about the popularity of solar among voters.  Didn’t really matter what your party affiliation, solar beat out all other forms of energy - heck, solar was more popular than chocolate!

Chart of favorable-unfavorable ratings for different energy types

Not that you could guess that based on some of the press coverage of the industry which seemed to have only ever heard of one solar company - Solyndra!

But voters’ belief in solar included putting taxpayer money behind it.  A full 64% of all voters - and an even more impressive 67% of the much courted “swing voters” - supported tax subsidies and other financial incentives for solar.  (By contrast, only 8% of all voters supported continuing subsidies for the coal industry.)

#8 - Non-Residential PACE Rebounds - at Least in LA County

One of the most written about topics on this blog has been the struggle to bring PACE financing to reality.  PACE - an acronym for Property Assessed Clean Energy - is a program that allows a property owner to finance a solar project by annual property tax payments.  PACE was all set to go in the residential market when Fanny and Freddy balked in the aftermath of the 2008 mortgage bubble crash.

But there is good news as the program has been revived for commercial property owners in LA County (and some surrounding counties as well).  The county launched a website and interested potential clients can learn more about the program there.  We are looking forward to doing our first PACE project in 2013.

#7 - CPUC Provides Progress on Net Metering

Most residential and commercial solar systems make use of net metering - that is, the method by which a solar customer gets credit for excess energy produced by their system during peak output versus the amount of energy actually purchased off the grid.  Those numbers are “netted out” and the customer pays if they are a net consumer and is given a payment (tiny though it may be) if they are a net producer.  Good deal all around, yes?

Well, not so much, apparently, if you are a utility.  Utilities in the state, particularly PG&E, have been trying to severely limit the number of solar power systems subject to net metering.  But in an important victory for the solar industry, last June the California Public Utilities Commission ruled that PG&E’s proposed way of measuring that cap was incorrect and in so doing, substantially increased the number of systems that California residents and businesses will be able to install.

The utilities did get something in return, however, a study to be performed this coming year to assess the costs and benefits of “various levels of [net metering] implementation."  This will be a very important study and it may well have far reaching impacts on the growth of solar in California.  Needless to say, the solar industry will need to be heavily involved in monitoring this process as it is certain that the utilities and their lobbyists will be pushing hard to get a result in their favor.

#6 - Power to the People - Support SB 843!

Community solar

One of the frustrations of running a solar company is that there are potential clients out there for whom their own solar power system simply cannot work.  Their roof might be all wrong, or the shading from surrounding trees simply cannot be overcome.  Or they might be renters, or a commercial business with a relatively small, weak, roof that doesn’t match their load.  Whatever the case, but way more often than we like, we simply have to say no.

Community Solar - the goal of SB 843 - could go a long way toward solving that problem.  Under a Community Solar program, a system developer could sell shares in the output of the system to any customer of the utility where the project is located.  Those customers could purchase just the amount that they needed, unconstrained by the happenstance of roofs, or landlords, or loads.  The system provides its power directly to the grid, and the utility bills the customers based on their share of the energy produced (much like the “green energy” that some utilities now allow their customers to purchase).

Up against the end of the legislative session and facing still opposition from the utilities and their allies in the legislature, SB 843 died in September.

The good news is that the bill is slated to be reintroduced next year.

#5 - Westridge Project Grabs Pasadena Weekly’s Green Issue Front Page!

Jim Jenal, Run on Sun Founder, poses beside the 52.3kW solar power installation at Westridge School for GirlsWe’d be lying if we didn’t admit that our favorite project this year - at least in terms of coverage on this blog - was our install at the Westridge School for Girls here in Pasadena.  Seven different articles chronicled that project from our initial selection, to a series of step-by-step construction stories, to reporting on the accolades that the project garnered for both Westridge and Run on Sun.

Micro-inverter manufacturer Enphase Energy featured the project as one of their Projects of the Week, the City of Pasadena cited the project in selecting Westridge for a Green City award, and Pasadena Weekly put the project on the cover of their annual “Green Issue."  Some great PR for a great project with a great client.  We look forward to doing it again with the folks at Westridge real soon.

#4 - LADWP Updates FiT Status

FiT price decline over timeLADWP continues its slow march to rolling out a FiT and our #4 post detailed the latest status update from DWP.  Alas, we still haven’t seen data from the demonstration project released and as near as we can tell, the “standard” contracts for those approved projects are still being finalized long past the October-November timeline that was announced with this update.

Will this program roll-out in January as scheduled?  Seems unlikely, but stay tuned!

#3 - Vote Yes on 39

Voters in California put their votes where the polls said they would be - supporting Proposition 39 that would greatly increase funding for energy efficiency and green energy projects with 60% of the vote.

Amidst rumors of possible legal challenges, the fight over, and potential implementation of, Prop 39 will be one of the big solar stories in 2013.

#2 - Centex Clouds Solar Tile Repairs

Mega-home builder Centex of the Pulte Group has a problem with some of its highly-touted “solar homes” - the homeowners cannot use their solar power systems because of faulty roofing tiles that threaten to catch on fire.  The manufacturer has gone out of business and while Centex has said that they will pay for repairs, they are asking homeowners to sign a pernicious release that could leave them exposed if there are problems with the repair down the road.

Centex logo

After we originally wrote about the problem, we were contacted by one of the homeowners asking for our help.  We got Centex to admit that they might conceivably waive the release requirement but apparently only if the homeowner is willing/able to push back - hard.  Frankly, we think that Centex should just step up and do the right thing - but if they are unwilling to do so, we sure would like to see the authorities provide whatever extra encouragement is needed.

Despite only being published a short time, this story jumped to be our second most popular post of the year and it would make our year to be able to report that this ultimately has a happy ending.  We’re still waiting.

And Our #1 Post of the Year:
Outliers & Oddities: State of SoCal Solar 2012 - Part 3

Once again, our most popular post for the year was our annual examination of the Outliers and Oddities as determined by analyzing the CSI data for the first half of the year.  Since it was published on September 6th, it has racked up more than 4,000 views!

Of all that we reported on in this very lengthy (2795 words - yikes!) post, perhaps the most troubling was what we documented with this graph:

Years of delay

This graph shows how the extraordinary delays in installing systems by industry-giant SolarCity is retarding the progress of the industry in meeting consumer needs and in protecting the environment.   Word to the wise, bigger isn’t necessarily better and “free” may not be all that it is cracked up to be!

Looking Ahead…

That’s our recap on the year - our best year ever.  We are really excited for 2013 as the economy continues to improve and we finally have the uncertainty of the past twelve months behind us, we are expecting great things from the year ahead.  And, of course, you can continue to expect our mostly informed, somewhat irreverent take on all things solar.  Thanks for your support and encouragement - especially you, Vick!

Happy Holidays!

12/03/12

  11:33:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1010 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Safety, Ranting

Centex Clouds Solar Tile Repairs

Centex logoRecalls can be messy - but they are made worse when the company performing the repairs insists upon a release of all possible claims before starting work. But just such a mess is what some homeowners have found themselves facing as they try to find a fix for their Centex “solar homes” that are no longer producing power, just headaches. Here’s our take.

Nearly a year ago we first wrote about a recall of Suntech solar roofing tiles.  Those tiles - allegedly manufactured for Suntech by a now defunct company called Open Energy Corporation - were recalled over fears that they could overheat and cause a fire.  Our post generated a considerable number of comments - many from folks affected by the recall who were wondering what to do.

Centex "solar home"

Centex Solar Home in Pleasanton, CA

One such group of respondents were folks living in “solar homes” built and sold by Centex.  Indeed, news accounts going back to the housing boom in 2006 show Centex touting these homes, some of which sold for over a million dollars.  Now these aren’t homes in Beverly Hills - rather, they are in subdivisions of towns like Pleasanton and Roseville in California’s central valley.  Homeowners were lured to these particular homes because of the promise of lower energy bills thanks to their “solar roof” which Centex estimated could save homeowners 65-70% off their utility bills - a big deal in an area with high air conditioning loads each summer.

But all of that changed with the recall that began in 2011 and peaked when the Consumer Products Safety Commission issued a formal recall notice in February.  The immediate consequence of the recall was that all of these solar power systems had to be shut off while the owners awaited word of how repairs would be handled - so much for energy savings.  We understand that originally Suntech paid homeowners for their lost energy production, but that as the investigation proceeded, Suntech backed away, asserting that the panels in question were not their branded products.  The manufacturer of the roofing tiles - Open Energy Corporation, which became Applied Solar, Inc., which became Applied Solar LLC - has since gone bankrupt and ceased operations.

Which leaves Centex - the builder of these homes - to make things right.

Now keep in mind that if Run on Sun - or any other solar contractor operating in California - were to install a solar power system on a residential roof, we would be required to provide to that homeowner a ten-year warranty covering our work.  These homes, which were built between 2006 and 2009, are well within the relevant ten-year warranty window so it is not unreasonable that Centex should handle these repairs for their customers.  Customers, we should note, who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Centex for their home.

But the response from Centex has been troubling to say the least.  While they notified affected customers that they would provide repairs without cost, they sought to extract a release from liability that is breathtaking in its scope.  Here is the release language from the Centex agreement:

Release.  In consideration of completion of the CPSC Repair [i.e., repair of the solar tiles] owner releases and fully discharges Centex Homes from any and all liabilities, claims, causes of action, or damages of whatever nature, character, type or description, which Owner may have or may incur in the future, arising out of, or in any way connected with component parts, being replaced/added under the CPSC Repair.

In other words, yes, we will repair your defective roof, but only if you agree that after that, we are done and any future problems you might have with the equipment Centex built into your roof is your problem!  Keep in mind that the reason for the recall in the first place was the concern that these tiles could overheat and cause a fire - so the potential future harm at issue here is nothing short of your house burning down!  No solar contractor in California could legally extort such a release from a customer as a pre-condition of performing warranty repairs, let alone recall-mandated repairs.

Not surprisingly, some homeowners are uncomfortable signing on to such a one-sided agreement and one of them complained to us.  Now while we don’t have any skin in this game, the high-handedness of Centex was offensive and we decided ask them the basis for their demand.  Somewhat surprisingly we got a response to our inquiry (you can read the complete email here.)  In pertinent part, here is what the spokesman for Centex had to say:

If homeowners do not wish for us to do the repairs, they are free to contact Suntech directly and try to get them to make repairs.  In addition, if a homeowner has an issue with the contract, we have addressed those on an individual basis.

Of course, Suntech insists that these tiles are not their products and the manufacturer has long ceased to exist so the first option really doesn’t apply.  The second, however, is quite intriguing in that it makes clear that Centex will give on their overreaching language if the homeowner is willing to push back hard enough.  (Although we wonder if that entails hiring a lawyer.)

We asked them for clarification but they declined to comment further.

So that is where things stand.

Centex has a bunch of homeowners with “solar homes” that cannot make use of the sun for fear of having their homes burn to the ground.  Everyone else who potentially had anything to do with this problem has either disavowed involvement - Suntech - or has gone out of business - Applied Solar.

Maybe enough people will see this post and put pressure on Centex (a member of the PulteGroup) to do the right thing.  (Although a consumer complaint site with more traffic than this blog doesn’t appear to have done much to move them.)  Perhaps what is needed is an enterprising class action lawyer  or a district attorney willing to intervene on behalf of consumers left without a decent resolution to a problem not of their making.  We will be waiting, and hoping, for such a result.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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