Owners and developers of half a dozen solar farms are scrambling to put in place contingency measures to deal with the collapse of a leading contracting group R&L Solar Constructions, which was placed in voluntary administration on Monday.
The decision by R&L – blamed on an unspecified “fraud” and the failure by several EPC contractors to pay invoices on time – led to walk stalling on six projects and hundreds of employees being stood down. Some complained of not being paid for weeks, although this was contested by some project owners.
RenewEconomy understands that project developers and EPC contractors (who have overall responsibility for the construction of a project) are seeking clarity from R&L administrators Pitcher Partners about the status of the company.
At issue is whether R&L will be able to continue in some form and, if not, the status of the equipment it owns (including piling machines) at the various projects and whether this can be bought or hired.
The contracts identified by Pitcher Partners in a press statement on the 60MW Christmas Creek solar project in the Pilbara, the 50MW Jemalong solar project in NSW being built by Genex, the new 12MW solar farm being built for the Melbourne Airport, LightsourceBP’s 174MW Wellington solar project in NSW, the Corowa solar project in NSW, the Collinsville solar project in Queensland and the 254MW Kiamal project, the biggest solar farm in Victoria.
The issues at Christmas Creek project in the Pilbara, owned by Alinta Energy and destined to provide power to iron ore mines run by billionaire Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals, are proving particularly challenging because of the remoteness of the project and the uncertainty for workers.
It is believed half have travelled to Perth, with the remainder staying at the site. Fortescue, Alinta and EPC contractor Downer are all working to provide accommodation and clarity over visa issues, travel permits (due to Covid-19), and the work situation.
Ironically, Christmas Creek was one of the last, if not the last, large scale solar project taken on by Downer before it dramatically announced that “we’re out” of the EPC solar contracting business, because of the growing risks of delays, cost over-runs and damages claims caused by increasingly complex grid connection rules and fierce competition in the industry.
The remoteness of all sites – either in western NSW, north west Victoria or north Queensland, poses similar issues for the R&L workforce at those project.
Genex does not expect the failure of R&L to have any significant impacts on its Jemalong project, which is being managed by Beon Energy Solutions, which also recently took over the running of the Kiamal solar project after the withdrawal of Biosar, owned by the Greek-based Ellaktor.