How An Oddly Placed Switchboard Spoiled A Tasmanian Solar Install

Solar power and electricity meters in Tasmania

When you get solar power installed you often need a new meter. The rules governing this meter are made by the local network. The electricity retailer organises installation and readings, then a third party company installs the meter. This can cause frustration when there is a metering issue – as Margie in Tasmania found out recently.

In this week’s post, we’re hoping we can help resolve a problem for a customer named Margie, who found herself falling between the cracks after installing new solar panels in Tasmania.

It started with a phone call to ABC’s Nightlife, where Finn was doing a spot with Philip Clark (you can listen here, with Margie’s call starting at 39:23).

It’s a cautionary tale about how decades-old decisions made by a previous owner of a home (and the electricity authorities of long ago) can come back to spoil things for a later buyer of a property. There’s also a warning for front-line solar installers, because they’re always going to be the face of the project, even if it’s not always fair.

The decision in question is easily seen in the photo below.

 

Who … I have to restrain myself from worse language here … the hell decided to put the meter there? Or, alternatively, when a previous owner had to replace a staircase, did they ever imagine that halving the width of the staircase would cause as much trouble as it eventually did?

Because you can easily see from the meter’s location the problem that was going to sting Maggie: nobody’s OH&S rules – nor their insurance, I’d guess – would okay replacing an electricity meter where that one’s located.

The rules governing electricity meter location (provided by TasNetworks and linked at the end of this post) are so clear about what’s acceptable, it’s hard to see why nobody complained before:

“The metering position is the location provided for the installation of metering equipment. Meters shall be located in a position with unhindered access for installing, reading, testing, adjustment and removal, without difficulty or hazard.”

And:

“Access to meter locations via platforms, walkways, stairways or ladders shall comply with Australian Standard (AS 1657). If there is any dispute about the suitability of the structure, the Metering Provider may request a certificate of compliance from a building surveyor.”

And it’s not just the meter’s location that stalled the project. As Margie told us in an e-mail:

“Metering Dynamics, the sole contractor for Aurora Energy for meters, attended 12 July, took one look and left, indicating issues with asbestos and location of meter, and referring us to contact Aurora.”

Again, fair enough: asbestos is a no-go area for good reason, and it must be handled by experts.

However, what happened next was Margie found herself being redirected from company to company: the installer (I Want Energy) wasn’t responsible for the meter, nor was TasNetworks who pointed to Aurora, Aurora pointed to Metering Dynamics, and Metering Dynamics appeared unhelpful (we also tried to contact Aurora and Metering Dynamics, without success).

Eventually – we’re into August now – I Want Energy put Margie in touch with another electrician who was able to replace the asbestos panel and lodge the necessary paperwork.

However, with the meter still in that bonkers location, Metering Dynamics still wasn’t interested. Their next visit was September, when:

“They say they have to be able to stand in front of the switchboard with both feet on the ground. I note that rules do say switchboards should be between 120-180cm above the ground … but we never put it where it is! They wouldn’t contemplate using either this scaffold or a more substantial one with railings,” Margie wrote to us.

We can’t fault Metering Dynamics adhering to safety rules, but we agree with Margie that it took her too long to get to this point.

Who’s To Blame? Probably Everyone

To us, it looks like there’s a little bit of fault for everyone to dine on: because of the thousands of dollars moving the electricity meter, the customer is hoping to leave it where it is; the installer should probably be aware of meter location rules; and Metering Dynamics was unresponsive.

I Want Energy comes off the best: the solar retailer has agreed to split the cost of relocating the meter with Maggie, but she’s still worried about the delay. Getting the project wrapped up will need a third request for metering works to be lodged with (and okayed by) Aurora; and the electrician, TasNetworks and Metering Dynamics need to be teed up to attend the job at the same time, which will probably take weeks.

It could well be October before things are cleared up, which means a wait of four months from panel installation to switch-on.

Props to I Want Energy for concluding it would split the cost of the metering move with Margie – that decision will eat substantially into its margin for the project.

Here at SolarQuotes, we’re hoping two things: first, that relating the story will prod the arm’s-length participants (TasNetworks, Aurora and Metering Dynamics) into more energetic movement; and second, as a bit of an object lesson to solar installers about paying attention to details; especially in older buildings.

TasNetworks yesterday responded to our query about electricity meter location rules, pointing us to this PDF document – which should be useful to other customers and solar installers in Tasmania.

About Richard Chirgwin

Richard Chirgwin is a journalist with more than 30 years' experience covering a wide range of technology topics, including electronics, telecommunications, computing and science.

Comments

  1. Agreed that is a problem location, but why didnt they expand the landing? If the (1M high) handrail went around the platform, & the area is large enough for safe work, problem solved!

    Another way around this type of problem is to use the existing switchboard as a sub-board. The solar would be installed to the new board that is located in an accessible location.

    The problem I see is that people are no longer looking for alternative solutions. I personally blame the training given to tradies now. In the (good) old days, the training was far broader. My perception now is that tradies are only trained in the fairly ´standard´ work, not areas which might require looking outside general experience. This is not meant as a critiscism, because it is a much different world now, but meant as an invitation to keep an open mind.

    I suffered a situation where my local supplier refused to reconnect a service that was supplied from the rear of the property. I was lucky that the provider upgraded the aerials in the lane so I could feed from the front of the property, or the costs might have been astronomical. (btw, the service was disconnected for asbestos removal, butr the line still supplies the property next door!)

    regards, Doug

  2. There probably was once a charming landing there, with storage underneath , like a garden shed. Replace the landing, have a water tank underneath. Instead of locking horns with electricity providers who behave like brick walls,.

  3. The solar installer should have done a site inspection before agreeing to a final price. The customer is naturally upset to be informed of problems after agreeing to a price. On any job there could be problems with the existing roof structure, meter box location etc that affect whether the project is even viable that are only uncovered by a site inspection.

    Probably Margie’s responsibility to move the box as it’s in a non-compliant location and the wholesalers responsibility to deal with the asbestos problem as that obviously wasn’t a problem when it was initially installed. So maybe a 50/50 split.

    Who’s responsible needed to be negotiated upfront.

  4. Graham Revill says

    Surely extending the balcony would be the easiest solution and avoid disturbing asbestos. The rule can’t mean your feet have to be on the physical earth type ground. Can it? Does that mean if you live in a tower all the meters have to be on the ground level?

  5. Surely a small wooden deck could have been built to extend the landing out to the edge of the wall? You would think that would be cheaper than moving the meter.

  6. This is the part that gets my GOAT.
    “Aurora pointed to Metering Dynamics”

    Most of the electrical retailers keep pushing it onto the meter people and they say they will not get involved, This is just SLACK,
    The energy retailers have the contract to replace meters, they then use contractors to install them and then act like it is not their problem,
    These electrical retailers need to realise that if they use contractors they are still the responsible party.

  7. Make a deck with steel material, connect a ground wire to it and it becomes “ground” ???

  8. This is typical of life in today’s world: do a simple task and then create 47 assorted bureaucracies and other irrelevant ‘experts’ to fuck about with the endlessly-created (usually pointless) details/consequences an possibilitis. (See also: ‘Climate Change’, tax-finangling, etc etc etc ad infinitum.)

    The solution: Install the system yourself ~ as, where and when it suits you ~ or get the half-witted chimpanzee down the street to do it for you if you’re feeling lazy.

    Not only will it be done in a couple of hours, it’s cost a small fraction of an ‘expert’ ‘approved’, endlessly manipulated by ‘authorities’ and other non-productive (in economic terms) idjits who are too lazy or incompetent to get a ‘proper job’.

    And if something DOES go wrong YOU’LL know what needs to be fixed and the cheapest, quickest and most effective way do that.

    I’ve been installing all sorts of varied solar-systems since 1980 and have NEVER had a problem come back to bite me on the arse.

    ps. I’ve also workd with/in asbestos/asbestos environments throughout the building-boom decades (the single best building-material ever invented from any aspect), and have known NO-ONE who has ever suffererd ANY ill-effects.

    I AM dying of emphysema and associated heart- disease caused by 40 years of smoking (mainly) tobacco, which was for all that time touted as being good for your health because it ‘calmed your nerves’.

    Finally, keep in mind that EVERYBODY who ate tomatoes in 1888 died!
    Obviously we need legislation and bureaucratic expert oversight of the use and abuse of tomato soups of all kinds.

  9. ps…… When I say ‘install the system yourself’ I DO of course mean go stand-alone. Given the cheap, efficient plug-and-play components available anyone who gets involved with the ‘system’ should first search under the carpet for his IQ.

  10. Justin Poole says

    Aurora Energy continually looks for ways to improve customer experience and welcomes any opportunity to receive feedback with regard to our communications or processes. This includes ongoing reviews of our collateral and onsite communications.

    Aurora Energy partners with Metering Dynamics to provide a service to deliver advanced meters to Tasmanian households and businesses. Aurora Energy continues to be the primary contact for all metering queries, but relies on the technical expertise of Metering Dynamics and its service providers when carrying out a complex installation. This can lead to longer installation periods and may include a number of service providers to provide a solution. We now have a hotline for Electrical Contractors on 03 6216 5376 or via email on [email protected].

    While it would not be appropriate to go into the specifics of individual situations, what I can say is that the primary focus of Aurora Energy and Metering Dynamics’, in any situation, is the safety of any electrical contractors, our customers and the general public. To assist in the timely installation of a meter, Aurora Energy encourages all Electrical Contractors to engage with us as soon as possible via the Electrical Works Request process. Where a notice has been issued, explaining that there are site specific problems, we also ask that contractors resolve all outstanding matters prior to requesting the job to be reissued, as this will speed up the process. If there is any confusion, or further clarification is required, we are happy to assist.

    Justin Poole
    Revenue, Market and Metering Manager
    Aurora Energy

  11. I can’t believe the amount of claptrap going on in this situation. As a number of other commentators have said …. just extend the landing at the top of the stairs. ( to acceptable building standards obviously)You can also use the space underneath for whatever you like.

  12. There is no doubt that the installer should bear the cost of the installation including relocating of the switchboard as they were the ones who quoted to do the job.
    If they had done their job properly they would have quoted for the switchboard upgrade instead of wiping their hand of it.
    I smell to me like profiteering by adding extras before the job is complete.

  13. I’d be blaming the group which maintains the network. It can likely order technicians to fix up faulty work or else.
    Of course whoever put the stairs in is a complete dill as it would have been clear where the meter box was. Builders are not a real bright lot at the best of times so no surprise.

    Contact the Ombudsman. There are some things which only a Royal Decree can fix.

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