Man says he paid Tesla for solar panel system 4 years ago, but still can’t use it

In June 2018, Tesla’s SolarCity installed roof panels and wall chargers on Ben Kulia’s multi-unit home in Manoa.
Published: Sep. 25, 2022 at 1:57 PM CDT
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HONOLULU (KHNL/KGMB/Gray News) - In June 2018, Tesla’s SolarCity installed roof panels and wall chargers on Ben Kulia’s multi-unit home.

The project was supposed to save the Hawaii resident money while also saving the environment.

But Kulia said all it’s done is give him grief. In the over four years since it’s installation, he said the system isn’t generating any energy or savings for him.

“There’s no proper permit, I cannot turn it on,” Kulia told KHNL/KGMB. “And, therefore, the system just sits on my roof. And I feel really mental anguish every time I come home.”

The city’s Department of Planning and Permitting said it’s been waiting since October 2019 for paperwork from Tesla before it can approve the permit. Kulia said Tesla told him they’re working on it.

But in March, Kulia said communication stopped, and all customer service inquiries were routed to a call center.

After more than $50,000 in roof repairs, installation costs and lawyer fees, the Manoa doctor said he feels abandoned.

In desperation, Kulia tweeted to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, asking for his help.

“The system is just sitting there waste away, you know, because the solar cell gets degraded over time,” Kulia said. “I don’t have that much resources to take Tesla to court.”

Since his system was installed, Kulia said the cost of his electricity is 60% higher. He estimates he’s lost more than $30,000 in potential energy savings.

Like Kulia, KHNL/KGMB said they couldn’t reach anyone at Tesla for this story.

Instead, they contacted the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. Tesla is a member company and its executive director called Kulia’s case an anomaly.

Rocky Mould, the executive director of the association, said it stands by its member companies, and that they adhere to a code of ethics.

“We enforce that code of ethics for our members and part of that is being forthright and honest and transparent in all dealings with customers,” Mould said.

After Mould told Tesla about Kulia’s case, Kulia said he received an email about his project.

He is still waiting to speak to his contractor.

Mould said a backlog of permit applications and supply chain issues means systems can take a year to get online.

“Good installers are doing their best to get those permits and interconnection applications through. And it’s not their fault. A lot of that, you know, it’s really a mix of things,” Mould said.

If a contractor fails to finish a project, a complaint can be filed with the Better Business Bureau and the state’s Regulated Industries Complaints Office, which can revoke a company’s license.

“The big thing for consumers is going to be patience because the contractors have to go through the permitting process. They don’t control that,” Roseann Freitas, of the Better Business Bureau, said. “However, they do control setting realistic expectations of when a product is coming in and when that job could be completed.”

Another option is to hire another contractor to finish the project, but Kulia hopes he doesn’t have to do that.

“I try my best to be the best human being I could be,” he said. “And I would just hope that Tesla will see that and help me back.”