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Safety Warning Issued For Solar Systems Made By Failed Company

Snohomish PUD
Examples of failed Silicon Energy solar panels, including one that scorched the underlying roof.

Consumers who thought they were doing the right thing by buying rooftop solar systems made by a Pacific Northwest company called Silicon Energy are in a pickle. Many of those solar panels have now been labeled defective and a fire risk.

The safety warning came from a testing and certification lab called Intertek. It acted after it received reports of Silicon Energy solar modules delaminating or overheating, which could start a fire.

The testing lab urged consumers to remove solar panels showing any signs of failure.

The rub here is that the Marysville, Washington-based panel maker went out of business last year and stopped honoring warranty claims. Silicon Energy LLC filed a Certificate of Dissolution with the Corporations Division of Washington's Secretary of State office last July. ?

"My expectation is that most everybody that has one of these systems has already been contacted by their installer and is being kept abreast of what is going on,” said Dana Brandt, owner of Bellingham-based contractor Ecotech Solar.

Brandt also serves as vice president of the Solar Installers of Washington, which he said has been passing around information on the issue for a year already. ?

At least 1,110 Silicon Energy systems were installed in Washington state according to state solar incentive records. The number of Oregon installations could not be immediately ascertained from the Oregon Department of Energy, but may be a lot lower because of less generous incentives. ?

A former competitor, Itek Energy of Bellingham, has offered to sell replacement panels at a discount to Silicon Energy customers.

Seattle City Light said on its website that it has not heard of any similar problems with other solar panel brands. ?

Brandt characterized what happened with Silicon Energy as "really abnormal." ?

"Their design and materials were quite different from a standard solar panel. They were trying something new in hopes of creating a better, tougher, easier to install product," Brandt said. "The initial lab tests showed their panels to be incredibly tough but time in the field is showing the design to be flawed." ?

In an interview Monday, Brandt sounded a little put off by the Intertek safety warning. He said most of the failures he had seen with Silicon Energy panels "don't present a safety risk." ?

Silicon Energy produced the solar modules in question in Washington and also later in Minnesota roughly between 2009 and 2014. ?

Falling prices for solar panels due to cheaper imports from China put extreme pressure on domestic U.S. manufacturers in recent years.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.