"The rate of dangerous incidents is unacceptable, and above industry standards."
According to a CNBC investigation, retail giant Amazon — which made solar power a key pillar of its plan to reach zero emissions by 2040 — secretly switched off all rooftop warehouse solar panels amid multiple fires and safety concerns.
"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," an Amazon spokesperson conceded to CNBC in a statement.
The issue here isn't necessarily that Amazon clearly had some faulty tech on their hands. And if equipment is catching fire and threatening employee safety — as AmazonBasics products have done before — it should definitely be powered down. But the company failed to make the malfunctions and the subsequent shut-downs known to the public, which means that the company was apparently withholding info about both employee safety and its environmental efforts and impact.
Internal documents obtained by CNBC showed that between April 2020 and June 2021, there were at least six separate incidents of rooftop solar panels either catching fire or suffering electrical explosions. Forty-seven North American Amazon warehouses had these panels installed, meaning the dangerous malfunctions impacted roughly 12.7 percent of all such sites.
"The rate of dangerous incidents is unacceptable," an Amazon employee reportedly wrote in one internal report obtained by CNBC, "and above industry averages."
But these incidents and the following string of shutdowns and evaluations remained undisclosed, even though the Amazon's 2021 sustainability report — released long after those shutdowns and evaluations were underway — praised itself for its commitment to solar energy, domestically and beyond US borders.
"Many of our fulfillment facilities throughout the US, Europe, and India are powered by on-site solar," reads the 2021 report, "where a rooftop installation can power up to 80 percent of the facility's energy use."
According to CNBC, the documents also detailed extensive — and frankly, alarming — issues with the thousands of panels, as discovered by the company's third-party inspector.
"Over the past five years," read one internal document, blaming outside parties for Amazon's failures, "solar malfunctions have been caused by improper installation techniques, improper commissioning of a new system, inadequate system maintenance and equipment malfunction."
Amazon is no stranger to workplace dangers, nor is it exactly a climate hero. But this seems especially egregious. Maybe new solar panels are a better use for all that Blue Origin money, hm?
READ MORE: Amazon took all U.S. solar rooftops offline last year after flurry of fires, electrical explosions [CNBC]
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