Concerns of a Tony Abbott-style renewable energy witch hunt have been stoked again this week, with the federal Coalition releasing the terms of reference for its review into Australia’s rooftop solar sector.
The review, commissioned in August by federal energy minister Angus Taylor, has called for an examination of the regulatory framework and practices of the solar industry. It will be conducted by the Clean Energy Regulator over the coming six to eight weeks, but will not take public submissions because of the short time frame.
In a statement on Monday, the CER revealed the review would consider the effectiveness of the accreditation process for rooftop solar installers, including measures in place to ensure installers are appropriately trained, competent, and operate with integrity.
The review will also examine the approvals process for key solar system components, including PV panels and inverters, and the measures in place to ensure these comply with relevant – and changing – product standards.
The legislative framework and processes of the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) would also come under the magnifying glass, the CER said, in particular the compliance of retailers and installers with obligations under the scheme, and the protection of consumers against inappropriate sales and installation practices, including financing.
In its statement, the CER noted that, due to the “short timeframes for this review,” it would not issue a formal call for public submissions, but rather would undertake targeted engagement with key stakeholder and statutory bodies.
“The purpose of the review is to make integrity improvement recommendations to the Minister. The review will not be resolving specific consumer issues or complaints,” the statement said.
The Clean Energy Council, which in August warned against the repeat of a Tony Abbott-style renewable energy witch hunt, this week restated concerns that this was a “politically motivated review” aimed at undermining public confidence in rooftop solar.
The CEC – which at present manages the accreditation of Australian rooftop solar installers and components – is also worried that the review will encourage opposition to its accreditation system, which has been criticised by some in the industry as arbitrary and anti-competitive.
“The CEC has worked hard to lift the bar in the rooftop solar industry – cancelling and suspending hundreds of sub-standard installers, removing many underperforming products and rejecting dodgy retailers from the Approved Solar Retailer program,” the statement said.
“We remain unapologetic for our strong stance and lifting the bar for the industry.”
But the CEC also conceded that the regulatory framework for the industry was imperfect, and needed improvement, particularly for its involvement of a wide range of different regulators and government bodies.
“There are a number of areas we want to see reformed and improved through this government review, many of which are longstanding areas of concern for the Australian rooftop solar industry and matters the CEC has been calling for to be addressed for a considerable period of time,” it said.
Among the key areas requiring reform, the CEC said, it hoped for measures to ensure better quality of training for the rooftop solar industry, improvements to government regulations relating to phoenixing, and improved consistency in electrical safety management across Australia.
The CEC also said it was keen to see reform to the way in which product standards were developed, to ensure they were fit-for-purpose and able to keep pace with changing technology and consumer expectations.
This no doubt refers to the debacle surrounding the installation standards for residential battery storage systems in Australia and, more recently, the rushed changes to inverter standards introduced this week.
“We expect that there will be opportunities for consultation from CEC members and installers throughout the review process, and we will keep you updated on how you can contribute when more information becomes available,” the statement said.