New Queensland Rule To Heavily Impact State’s Commercial Solar Sector

Queensland commercial solar

Image: Skeeze

Queensland Government rules set to come into force in less than two weeks will hit the state’s commercial solar energy sector hard says the Clean Energy Council.

Less than a month ago, the Palaszczuk Government announced a new code of practice and electrical safety regulations to kick in from May 13, requiring that only licensed electricians mount, locate, fix or remove solar panels on solar farms with a total rated capacity of 100kW or more. 

It said the new regulations achieved the right balance between the state’s renewable energy aspirations  and ensuring worker and community safety. As part of its justification, it noted 67 statutory breaches of work health and safety and electrical safety laws at solar farms across the state during the previous 6 months. Breaches included unlicensed electrical work, non-compliant electrical installations and inadequate safe work method statements and emergency plans. But none of this seems to relate to the work carried out by labourers performing basic solar panel handling tasks.

CEC: “Absurd” Rule

The Clean Energy Council doesn’t agree with the new rule or the reasoning behind it, likening it to engaging an electrician to hang a TV on a bracket already on your wall. 

“It’s absurd. It would be virtually impossible to electrocute yourself by handling an unconnected panel,” said CEC Director of Energy Generation, Anna Freeman. “You’re at greater risk from plugging in a toaster at home.”

The CEC says solar businesses estimate the new rule will increase the cost of commercial solar in the state by 10 to 20 per cent – and where project contracts have already been signed, these businesses won’t be able to pass the additional costs on. For utility scale solar installations, the CEC has calculated the additional cost to be between 1.5 and 4.5 per cent in the example of a 100 MW solar farm.

Aside from more expensive commercial solar perhaps dampening demand and labouring jobs lost, electricians aren’t exactly in oversupply and this could create delays on projects. Sparkies will also be finding themselves getting a bit more exercise, which may or may not appeal.

“If there were a genuine safety risk in trained labourers handling solar panels, then this would apply both for a 99 kW project and a 101 kW project,” the CEC stated late last month “However, a 99 kW project will not require licensed electricians to mount panels, despite there being no difference in the construction method.”

Why there is such a rush to implement this rule is a little odd given there doesn’t appear to have been any electrocution injuries from handling solar panels. While a panel is “live” when exposed to sunlight, you’d have to be trying pretty hard in order to get zapped due to the nature of the connectors.

The CEC is again asking the Queensland Government to delay the implementation of the new regulation before jobs are lost, so that proper consultation can occur.

“If the Palaszczuk Government is willing to return to the table, we are confident that we can work co-operatively together with all parties to find a way forward that does not destroy jobs and investment,” said Ms. Freeman.

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.

Comments

  1. Lawrence Coomber says

    As a Master Electricians Qld Member I have just received this advice from Master Electricians on the issue:

    An extract from the Qld Master Electrician Information sent to Members 21/05/2019

    We’ve been involved behind the scenes in stakeholders’ meetings for the last eight months. While others have taken their concerns to the media, we’ve taken the view until now that we were better to work behind closed doors with the government. We’ve certainly had good access to the government and a good relationship with the media. We also believed we had reached an agreement in our final meeting about the most contentious issue – the requirement for licensed electricians to be mandatory in lifting panels into place as part of the install.

    In a nutshell, the regulation does not define solar panels as a piece of electrical equipment, but then requires an electrical license to install them. If panels were defined as electrical equipment under the Electrical Safety Act, none of these issues would arise because the rules around using apprentices and trade assistants would apply to the install process. You overwhelmingly told us that you didn’t believe it was either practical or efficient to have licensed electricians performing what is effectively the job of a trade assistant. However, the final regulation was not shown to the consultative group, and when it was released publicly it revealed that the government had reneged on the commitment they gave us. The Minister is now insisting that only electricians can mount or lift panels.

    So what are our next steps? This week we went public on the issue to support an Opposition disallowance motion in the Parliament. In reality, this will be more of a symbolic debate as the Government’s numbers in Parliament will ensure the regulation can’t be knocked out this way. Nonetheless, we think it’s important to make the point. We’re also supporting a legal challenge to the legislation being put together by a number of solar farm installers whose livelihood is at risk. And we are calling for the Government to undertake a proper review of the Act and genuinely fix any real issues it finds in relation to solar farms. This includes defining a panel as a piece of equipment that needs a licence to install, which will mean that all the usual rules around using apprentices and Trades Persons Assistant (T.A’s) to do the work will apply.

    On the whole, though, we’re sceptical about whether there are actually serious problems that need to be fixed. We certainly haven’t seen any evidence of the incidents and injuries the minister has been talking about. We do know that many solar farm installers are telling us the projects will not fly if they have to employ hundreds of electricians, many on a fly in fly out basis. And many of you have told us that you didn’t do a four-year apprenticeship to learn how to lift heavy objects.

    Lawrence Coomber

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