Major Potential Solar Fraud Investigation In Western Australia

Clean Energy Regulator - solar fraud

A search warrant was executed in Perth this week in connection to potential fraud associated with the installation of almost 550 solar power systems.

Among other roles, Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator (CER) is tasked with overseeing Australia’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES), which provides the framework for Australia’s national “solar rebate”. Part of this role is to maintain the integrity of the SRES and investigate alleged fraud associated with the Scheme.

One of these current investigations is determining whether an as-yet unnamed Perth-based solar sales and installation company has provided false information about who installed almost 550 solar panel systems.

Why does this matter?

In order for an installation to be eligible for the subsidy, an accredited installer must be – at a minimum – on-site supervising an installation at the point of commencement, midway and when the system is being tested and commissioned. That installer must sign off on the installation.

Approximately $1.7 million worth of Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs) were created for the installations in question. STCs are the virtual bits of paper the subsidy is based on.

The Regulator announced yesterday it had executed a search warrant at three Perth addresses connected to the company this week that aimed to uncover evidence of fraudulent activity. While the CER didn’t offer any hints to what it found, it states:

“At the conclusion of the investigation, consideration will be given as to whether a brief of evidence will be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. If criminal charges are laid, a person could face up to 10 years in jail for fraud related offences.”

Assuming fraud has occurred and depending on the circumstances, the Regulator could perhaps choose an alternative to prosecution – a court-enforceable undertaking by the party to carry out certain activities to rectify the issues, approved by the Regulator. But this is a particularly serious situation.

What Will Happen With The Systems?

Based on previous incidents of improper STC creation, owners of these systems should not have to pay back the subsidy – after all, it’s not their fault. The systems may need to be inspected by an accredited professional as it raises the question: if documents have been falsified, what other dodginess has gone on? If this is deemed necessary, inspections should occur at no cost to the system owners; as should rectification works if required.

In the past and under enforceable undertakings, the culprit has picked up the tab for all this – and it could be a mighty bill in this situation.

Solar Crime Doesn’t Pay (If You Get Caught)

This wouldn’t be the first time criminal charges have been laid as a result of a CER investigation.

Just recently, in March we reported multiple charges were laid against a company in relation to the installation documentation for 14 systems. Earlier in the year, another investigation resulted in the successful prosecution of a Tasmanian solar panel installer convicted in February for providing a false system owner signature on a STC assignment form.

As for the chances of getting caught engaging in various solar shonkiness, they are growing as the Clean Energy Regulator’s powers for weeding out crap installers and other participants are boosted. The Regulator is also encouraging whistle-blowers to provide it information, last year integrating the Whispli whistle-blower app that enables allegations of fraud to be lodged anonymously.

How To Avoid Crap Solar Companies

SolarQuotes has a guide to choosing a good solar installer that can be helpful. But to make the task of finding a good installer quick and easy, you can get up to 3 quotes through the SQ service from trusted, pre-vetted installers. This is a free service backed by the SolarQuotes Good Installer Guarantee.

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. Des Scahill says

    This is unfortunate, but at least it shows that the Clean Energy Regulator is trying to do their job.

    Such events can maybe get ‘over-amplified’ by various coteries of climate change denialists too.,

    I’ve recently read some articles about the combined effects of rising temperatures, extreme weather events and environmental pollution on an unimaginable scale in India.

    Frankly, its horrifying. 50 degree temperatures, spontaneous combustion within enormous rubbish tips that fill the air with vast quantities of toxic substances that will literally kill you if you breath it, so hot that in some city locations, the glass in windows melts, farmers unable to grow crops because their land is now a desert due to drought, untreated water laden with all sorts of toxic substances flowing directly into the ocean, undrinkable tap water.; and much more

    There’s lots of underlying casual factors involved, political corruption at all levels being only one of them.

    India is a real-world example of what potential social collapse can look like if you don’t adequately address human-induced climate change impacts while you still have time to do so.

    Attempts have belatedly begun to address the problems, but whether India will fully succeed or not is an open question, although some partial success is likely.

  2. MIchael – in Perth – actively pursued by supplier with quote, but does not suggest home site visit necessary before accepting quote…this does not seem right?
    JO

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Hi Josie, Ronald here.

      An installer can make a quote by using aerial photos of a home’s roof. This is cheaper than coming out to inspect a site and many lower cost but still good quality installers use this method. While we recommend a site inspection, it’s not strictly necessary. But when you say you’re being actively pursued, this makes me worried you are being targeted by a door knocker or other unsolicited salesperson. My advice is to avoid any company that uses high pressure sales tactics. If they have a good product all they have to do is present it well and it will sell itself.

      If you are interested in getting solar, we can put you in touch with installers we have vetted and know do quality work, whether you are interested in a lower cost system or a high end one.

    • Des Scahill says

      Hi Josie,

      What’s ‘under the roof’, in the ceiling space is important. That way you can
      be completely sure that the roof supporting structure in the cavity space meets safety standards, and panels will be both secure and .within load-bearing limits.

      Usually it’s OK…. but….. you don’t want to discover some ‘problem’ down the track.that requires panels to be temporarily removed in order to fix it.

      Also check for possibility of undetected water leaks into cavity at times of extreme weather events which could potentially affect roof insulation., and then maybe also find it’s way down onto plaster board interior ceilings. .

      On my own house I added some extra down-pipes so that water would
      be quickly carried off the roof, and checked the prevailing winds in my area. (water can get pushed up under the roof tile or corrugated iron overlaps in very high winds).

      The above might sound complicated but actually it doesn’t take long at
      all to decide if a few minor adjustments to the panel lay-out might be a good idea.

      Most PV contracts have a clause that makes it the owner’s responsibility
      to ensure that the underlying roof structure will adequately support the added roof load and it is YOUR problem not theirs if some future problem arises

  3. My solar quote was also done without site inspection and using Google Maps. When the installer came out, we change the panels location as they found shade in the original location. Good installer vetted by solarquotes. I also followed Finn’s advice and got the installer to install the inverter in the shade. Can’t get shadier than in my garage.
    The panels are now 1 year old and I am loving the smaller energy bill or no bills during the sunnier months.

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