Queensland’s big solar industry can once again exhale, with the news the state’s Court of Appeal has upheld the Supreme Court decision of nearly one month ago, overturning changes to solar safety regulations that threatened to bring large-scale installations to a halt.
The judgment, handed down on Tuesday morning, brings to an end the latest chapter of the months-long Queensland saga, revolving around a government-led rule change that required licensed electricians to mount and fix solar panels on projects of 100kW and larger – a job currently done by unskilled labourers.
Industry fought the rule from its inception, arguing that the new safety measure was a “ridiculous” overreach, and that it would cost jobs and blow out the costs and schedules of projects already under development. For projects in the planning stages, it threatened to rule them out completely, they said.
But the Labor Palaszczuk government persisted, and the rule was brought into play on May 13.
Left with no other option, the rule change was soon after challenged in the Queensland Supreme Court, in a case put by the managers of the Brigalow Solar Farm, with the support of the Clean Energy Council and Master Electricians Australia.
The Court promptly ruled in favour of Maryrorough Solar, which had argued the new rule would add around $2.6 million to the cost of its 35MW PV project – under development in southeast Queensland – and would require around 60 licensed electricians to be hired in place of local labourers.
That decision was, however, appealed by the state government, leaving the industry once again on tenterhooks as it awaited a decision from the Court of Appeal, which reserved its judgment on June 07.
The judgment is now in, and the ball is back in the government’s court. The Department of Industrial Relations is yet to issue a statement on the Court of Appeal’s decision, but in the past has been determined to see the rule reinstated. We’ll keep you posted.
For now, however, a win is a win, and the sense from industry is one of cautious optimism – including the hope that the state government will return to the table to nut out a way forward that all can agree on.
“It’s certainly a relief; this gives us the certainty we need to move forward, hiring the workers we need to keep building this solar farm,” said Lane Crockett, a director of Maryrorough Solar and the head of renewables for Impact Investment Group, whose Solar Asset Fund owns Brigalow.
“I think the solar industry is still ready to work with the state government to give them the confidence that this industry will be good for all Queenslanders,” Crockett said.
The judgment will also bring relief to the state’s thriving commercial solar industry, which – as we have reported – stood to lose a great deal under the controversial safety regulation, with the vast majority of projects larger than 100kW.
“It’s nice to see that logic prevails, eventually,” said Huon Hoogesteger, whose company Smart Commercial Solar currently has more than 40 projects under development in Queensland that are bigger than 100kW.
“Now we can get back to work.”
But Hoogesteger also notes that the months-long tussle with a government that is supposed to be pro-renewables – on paper, at least, according to its target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 – has taken its toll.
“It’s absurd that it takes so much money to overturn; creates so much uncertainty, and delayed much investment for a relatively positive industry.
“Once again, the global perception has been reaffirmed; that business in Australia is unstable because the governments love over-regulation.
“After so many of these types of events in Australia, we look forward to the next grenade!”
The Clean Energy Council, which has been instrumental in the industry effort to fight the rule change, said it hoped this would be the last of the “rushed” legislation, that would have added significant costs and red tape for no clear benefit.
“Queensland’s courts have now determined twice that the government’s regulation requiring licensed electricians to do the work of labourers and trades assistants is inconsistent with the Electrical Safety Act,” said CEC chief Kane Thornton in comments on Tuesday.
“That is because it is not electrical work. …The industry should never have had to go through the courts to resolve something that could easily have been worked out with a full and proper consultation process.
“After three months of chaos and uncertainty in the large-scale solar sector in Queensland, we look forward to being able to get on with the job of building and investing in new clean energy projects worth billions of dollars that the state needs to meet its renewable energy target,” Thornton said.
“This decision is good news for regional jobs and communities, and good news for the clean energy transition in Queensland.”