Queensland solar industry on tenterhooks, as decision on rule change reserved

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Court of Appeal reserves judgment on Queensland government bid to have controversial solar rules reinstated, after they were ruled invalid by Supreme Court.

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Queensland’s commercial and large-scale solar industries remain on tenterhooks going into the weekend, after the Court of Appeal reserved its judgment on the state government’s bid to have its controversial solar rule changes put back in place.

In a case heard on Friday morning, the Queensland Labor government appealed last week’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned its May 13 changes to solar safety regulations, which required licensed electricians, only, to mount and fix PV panels on projects 100kW and larger.

RenewEconomy understands that the Court of Appeal has reserved its judgment on the matter, with a decision likely be handed down sometime next week.

It is also understood that the Palaszczuk government’s plans to apply for a stay of last week’s Supreme Court decision – pending the outcome of the appeal – were not pursued.

In a statement issued last Thursday, Queensland’s minister for Industrial Relations, Grace Grace, said government intended to apply for the stay at the same time as lodging the appeal, so that government’s “safety measures” were maintained while legal matters were resolved.

To the industry’s relief, this did not happen – but the delayed outcome of today’s case will offer little comfort for solar developers in the state, who once again face significant added project costs and time delays if the rule is reintroduced.

For the developers of the 35MW Brigalow Solar Farm, who brought the case against the state government, the rule change was calculated to increase project costs by $2.6 million, and delay works as around 60 licensed electricians were sourced for the job.

For some commercial PV businesses, the prognosis had been even worse.

According to Huon Hoogesteger, his Smart Commercial Solar business has more than 40 projects in Queensland larger than 100KW, which remain in jeopardy under the terms of the still looming solar regulation.

But regardless of the Court of Appeal’s decision, the solar industry is not about to give up.

Lane Crockett – a director of Brigalow Solar Farm owner, Maryrorough Solar, and the head of renewables for the Mike Cannon-Brookes backed Impact Investment Group – pledged last week to keep working with all stakeholders, including government, to find a middle ground on improving solar project safety.

“Queensland is a key part of the picture for moving Australia to a clean energy system, so we’re looking forward to getting on with safe, efficient construction at the Brigalow Solar Farm, and helping the state meet its renewable energy targets,” he said.

The Clean Energy Council is keen to see the matter resolved, too. Preferably with more industry consultation.

“The (Queensland government) is of course welcome to appeal what was a pretty decisive decision by the Supreme Court, but it would be so much better if we could resolve it around a table, not in another court room,” Tweeted the CEC’s head of generation, Anna Freeman, late last week.

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