Court says no to Queensland solar rule changes
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New rules requiring solar farms of 100 kilowatts (kW) and larger to use licensed electricians have been declared invalid by the Queensland’s Supreme Court.
In April, the Queensland government amended its Electrical Safety Act to allow only electricians to mount and maintain solar panels from May 13.
Solar farm developer Maryborough Solar fronted the legal opposition and yesterday successfully challenged the rule. Supreme Court Justice Bradley said the amendment was beyond the powers of the Act.
Maryborough Solar owns the Brigalow Solar Farm near Pittsworth in southern Queensland.
Solar developers were taken by surprise and opposed the rule change, saying not only was that level of skill unnecessary for mounting a solar panel on a stand but there weren’t enough licensed electricians available in Queensland.
The state government said the rule was necessary for worker safety.
The Clean Energy Council estimated that a 100 megawatt (MW) solar farm would need to hire an extra 45 electricians, and there are currently 3200 MW under construction or committed in the state.
Before the court ruling, solar developers in mid-construction would have been “in a world of pain” because the rule would have added considerable extra, unbudgeted costs, said one director at a Queensland renewable energy developer who wished to remain anonymous.
“They’ve suggested that all activity, no matter how menial, must be performed by an electrician. God help those people who are midway through construction,” he said.
Other companies with projects still in the planning stage would have been able to factor in the extra cost.
He said the court ruling would be a relief.
Energy analyst David Leitch says the state government may use the ruling as a way to extricate themselves from an unpopular rule, or may revive it.
“I’m pleased the court ruled in that way. I didn’t think the regulation that the Queensland government had made was appropriate or fair or useful, or achieved anything other than to load more work on to people who didn’t really want the work,” he told Stockhead.
“It was going to increase the cost of projects in a material sense but even worse than the increase in cost was it was going to delay work because getting the electricians out to all of these jobs was going to be difficult.”
However, he also says it’s not a bad thing for the renewable industry to be reminded that worker safety is a vital issue.