“Shock and confusion” as Queensland holds line on solar rules

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Despite emergency meeting in Brisbane, solar industry headed for major downturn as state government holds line on contested rules to be introduced on Monday.

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Queensland’s booming large-scale solar industry is headed for an immediate down-turn, the Clean Energy Council has warned, if a state government-led amendment to PV panel installation guildelines goes ahead on Monday.

Queensland solar industry stakeholders have held an emergency round table meeting in Brisbane, just days out from the introduction of the new regulation that threatens to slash jobs and hamstring both commercial and large-scale projects in the state.

The new rule, officially announced just over a month ago, will require licensed electrical workers only to perform basic installation tasks on projects of 100kW and over, including lifting, mounting and fixing solar panels.

The Clean Energy Council, which hosted the meeting, said local industry was in “a state of shock and confusion” about what would happen to their existing staff and projects, in a matter of days.

“There’s a real fear that this will create a real downturn for the large-scale solar industry here in Queensland,” said CEC chief Kane Thornton in comments after the meeting.

“(This rule) would essentially lock out large numbers of local workers who are wanting to do basic and safe handling of solar panels, and force the use of electricians.

“We’ve heard some really concerning examples …in particular of the impact it’s going to have on those local communities where there’s great opportunity for workers to assist in the constriction of these solar power stations.

“We’ve also heard … case studies of the significant cost increase that would come for the solar industry… and also the expected delays; it will be very difficult to get enough qualified electricians out to these projects.”

Anger is also growing over what industry sees as a distinct lack of consultation – and indeed a lack of justification – for a rule that threatens to have such a major negative impact – not least of all on the Queensland government’s own 50 per cent by 2030 renewable energy target.

As we have reported, the amendment to the electrical safety regulation for solar farms was rushed through by the state government, in response to stakeholder concerns that unlicensed workers, including backpackers and labourers, were mounting and removing “live” solar panels.

But the Clean Energy Council maintains that it has not been shown any evidence of a safety breach by an unskilled labourer on a large-scale solar project to justify the move.

“The government has not been able to demonstrate evidence of a single safety breach or incident involving labourers or trade assistants mounting unconnected panels, despite having completed an extensive program of solar farm safety audits over the past year,” said CEC director of energy generation, Anna Freeman.

“Electricians are already required to test the integrity of the electrical earthing, and to undertake the electrical wiring, making this additional regulation unnecessary.

“This is a deeply disappointing outcome for those workers who are trained, experienced and entirely capable of … mounting unconnected solar panels.”

Solar business owners who have spoken to RE and One Step Off The Grid over the past month have also expressed complete disbelief in the concept that basic panel installation could be considered in any way dangerous, or specialist work.

“It’s like saying that when we build a house we need licensed electricians to even lay the bricks,” said Danin Kahn, the CEO of Todae Solar.

“There wasn’t proper consultation carried out in this process. This is just a cheap way of curtailing growth of large-scale solar,” Kahn said.

“There’s been a lack of consultation, particularly with guys like us that are on the ground,” added Jack Hooper, who heads up commercial solar specialist Gem Energy.

“Ruling a line in the sand between small-scale and large-scale based on the cut-off for the large-scale rebate scheme is crazy.

“It means that you don’t need to be an electrician to mount a solar panel to the roof on a 99.9kW job, but you do for a 100kW job, even though the risk profile is the same. And even though, the reality is, installing a solar panel is not electrical work. … It’s outrageous.

“We know that they want to improve safety, and we’re all agreeing with that,” Hooper says in a CEC video explainer of the issue. “But the way they have approached this has been incorrect.”

Ultimately, says Freeman, the rule change will have the unfortunate and unwanted effect of making Queensland a less attractive destination for solar investment.

“(Commercial installers) are already pushing the boundaries in commercial in terms of the pay-back period, which is at the outer limits of what companies expect to make the investment worthwhile.

“A short-term gain for sparkies will lead to a down-turn across the entire industry,” she told RE on Thursday afternoon after the meeting.

“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot… at a time when Queensland has to install roughly 700MW of new generation a year to meet its renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030.”

Have you or your business been affected by the introduction of the Queensland large-scale solar rule change? Share your story with us – [email protected]

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