Queensland solar rule change declared “invalid” by Supreme Court

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Solar farm investor-backed project developer score Supreme Court win over Queensland government’s controversial new solar rules.

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The controversial solar rule change governing projects 100kW and over in Queensland has been declared invalid by that state’s Supreme Court, after a legal challenge by a solar farm developer.

The managers of the 35MW Brigalow Solar Farm in the state’s south-east said on Wednesday afternoon that they had succeeded in their challenge to the new regulation, which came into force on May 13, despite a huge industry backlash.

The case was brought by Maryrorough Solar with the support of the Clean Energy Council and other industry heavyweights, against the Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 (Qld). The highly unpopular and rushed through rule required licensed electricians to mount and fix solar panels on projects of 100kW and over.

“The regulation has been declared invalid. It was beyond the regulation-making power in the Electrical Safety Act,” said a statement from Impact Investment Group – the financial backer of the Brigalow project that counts high-powered renewable energy investors among its ranks, including billionaire cleantech supporter Mike Cannon-Brookes.

“The new regulation would have required solar panels to be put in place and fixed by licensed electricians, whereas they can now continue to be installed by trained labourers.”

Lane Crockett – one of Maryrorough Solar’s company’s directors, and the head of renewables for the Mike Cannon-Brookes backed Impact Investment Group – had argued in an affidavit that Brigalow project costs would increase by $2.6 million, and works delayed as around 60 licensed electricians were sourced for the job.

“This decision will help Queensland keep growing a safe, clean and vibrant renewables industry – the cheapest form of new power generation,” said Crockett, in comments on Wednesday.

“We’ll keep working with all stakeholders – including government, investors, industry and the teams building our solar farms, to make the industry even safer and even more successful.”

“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.”

The Clean Energy Council’s Anna Freeman, who has fought the regulation change from the outset, described the ruling as “a victory for common sense,” and added that it was disappointing that it came down to a court challenge.

“Our preference was for a proper consultation process and full consideration of its regulatory impact,” Freeman said. “Mounting and fixing unconnected solar panels to a rail is mechanical work – not electrical work – and we are very pleased the Supreme Court of Queensland has ruled in the industry’s favour.”

Freeman said industry remained committed to working with the government to deliver safety improvements in the solar industry, but with certain conditions.

“The solar industry recognises that safety is paramount, but this new regulation did nothing to improve the safety of workers and was not justified by the government’s own safety data,” she said.

“Any future changes should be formulated in consultation with the industry and all relevant stakeholders, and should be based on evidence. We look forward to working with the Queensland Government to help achieve our shared aims of safely delivering on its 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.”

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