He paid Tesla for a solar panel system. 4 years later, he’s never been able to 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. 23, 2022 at 2:55 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 23, 2022 at 7:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In June 2018, Tesla’s SolarCity installed roof panels and wall chargers on Ben Kulia’s multi-unit home in Manoa.

The project was supposed to save him money ― while saving the environment.

But all it’s done is give him grief. To this day, the system isn’t generating any energy or savings for him.

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

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

But in March, 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 Hawaii doctor 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,” said Kulia. “I don’t have that much resources to take Tesla to court.”

Since his system was installed, Kulia says the cost of his electricity is 60% higher.

He estimates he’s lost more than $30,000 in potential energy savings.

Like Kulia, HNN couldn’t reach anyone at Tesla for this story. So we spoke to the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. Tesla is a member company and its executive director called Kulia’s case an anomaly.

“We stand by our member companies. They adhere to a code of ethics,” said Rocky Mould, executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. “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.”

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

He is still waiting to speak to his contractor.

Mould says a backlog of permit applications and supply chain issues mean 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 your project, you can file a complaint 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,” said Roseann Freitas, of the Better Business Bureau. “However, they do control setting realistic expectations of when 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.”