Silly Queensland Solar Rule Determined Invalid

The Supreme Court of Queensland yesterday ruled a recently introduced regulation resulting in extra costs in the construction of large-scale solar energy facilities in the state is invalid.

The Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 (Qld) was rushed through and kicked in a couple of weeks ago. Section 73A “Work involving PV modules at solar farms” required the use of licensed electrical workers to locate, mount, fix or remove solar panels in situations where projects are 100kW capacity or greater.

This was a task previously carried out by trained labourers and trades assistants – and widely considered low risk as it is a mechanical task with no electrical work involved. The same “risk” exists whether a system is 99kW or 101kW.

As well as impacting the development of solar farms, the rule also had implications for large rooftop commercial solar power projects and was estimated it would have added 10-20 per cent to the cost of commercial solar installations. As wells as the extra cost, demand for suitably qualified workers as required by the rule change would have increased, leading to delays in projects. Some electricians may not have been too keen on the idea of spending a good part of their day lifting and mounting solar panels either.

The Queensland Government’s reasons for implementing the rule were safety related, but as the Clean Energy Council has previously stated:

“It would be virtually impossible to electrocute yourself by handling an unconnected panel … You’re at greater risk from plugging in a toaster at home.”

The safety issue aside, the CEC says Justice Bradley declared the amendment regulation Section 73A to be beyond the regulation-making powers of Queensland’s Electrical Safety Act.

As well as Justice Bradley, the commercial and large-scale solar energy sector has Maryborough Solar and its backers thank for the ruling, along with supporters in the effort including the CEC. Maryborough Solar, which owns Brigalow Solar Farm near Pittsworth in southern Queensland, was the party to bring the challenge before the Supreme Court.

It Didn’t Have To Be This Way

While the ruling was described by the CEC as a victory for common sense, it shouldn’t have come to this.

“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,” stated Anna Freeman, the Clean Energy Council’s Director – Energy Generation. “Any future changes should be formulated in consultation with the industry and all relevant stakeholders, and should be based on evidence.”

The Queensland Government is yet to make a statement on the Supreme Court ruling.

UPDATE 3PM: QLD Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace has announced the State Government will lodge an appeal against the ruling.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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