String of fires prompts Amazon to temporarily shut down solar rooftops at US facilities

Amazon decided to suspend the use of the massive solar panel arrays installed at its fulfillment centers last year because they kept catching on fire.

Internal documents acquired by CNBC revealed that “critical fire or arc flash events” have occurred at six different North American facilities, accounting for around 12.7 percent of Amazon’s buildings. The documents were never made public.

“Out of an abundance of caution, following a small number of isolated incidents with onsite solar systems owned and operated by third parties, Amazon proactively powered off our onsite solar installations in North America, and took immediate steps to re-inspect each installation by a leading solar technical expert firm,” Amazon spokesperson Erika Howard said in a statement.

“The rate of dangerous incidents is unacceptable, and above industry averages,” another Amazon employee wrote in an internal report, according to the outlet.

In 2021, a fire in the rooftop solar panels at a Perryville, Maryland facility caused $500,000 in damage. The Office of the State Fire Marshall concluded the fire was “accidental” and involved “an unspecified event involving the solar panel system.”

Jeff Bezos’s retail colossus is the self-proclaimed “world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy,” and vowed in a 2021 report to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. As of April, 176 facilities worldwide had completed solar panel installations.

“We procure new renewable energy through contracts for utility-scale wind and solar, on-site rooftop solar installations, and green tariffs with local utilities that deliver new, renewable energy to the grids where we operate,” the company wrote in last year’s sustainability report. Details of the dangerous and costly fires were absent from the 100-page report.

In another major instance, firefighters responded to a three-alarm fire when solar panels at an Amazon facility in Fresno, California burst into flames in April of 2021. Approximately 220 panels were damaged along with other equipment. Similar language was used to describe the fire as was used in the Maryland case.

Leland Wilding, Fresno’s fire investigator, wrote in the incident report that the fire was caused by “an undetermined electrical event within the solar system mounted on top of the roof.”

But apparently, there’s nothing to see here, folks.

“As inspections are completed, our onsite solar systems are being powered back on,” Howard said last week. “Amazon also built a team of dedicated solar experts overseeing the construction, operations, and maintenance of our systems in-house to ensure the safety of our systems.”

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