QLD Government’s “new safety code” set to cost solar jobs

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Queensland new solar installation regulations will come into effect this coming Monday, May 13. The new addition to the codes of practice requires all mounting, locating, fixing or removing of solar panels on solar farms (with a total rated capacity of at least 100kW) to be performed by a licensed electrician. 

A solar farm is defined as “a large scale electrical generating system…rating of at least 100 kW and is, or will be, operated and maintained by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).” While this will not effect residential installations, larger commercial and utility scape projects will be significantly effected. 

Even Queensland solar installers operating primarily in the sub-100 kW threshold are wary of the potential effects this change will have throughout the industry. Joe Springer of Springers Solar told pv magazine Australia: “Jobs will be lost and projects will be more expensive and potentially not viable.” 

Springers Solar does not currently have any jobs in larger of 100 kW on the books, however, moving forward Springers Solar reports that it would likely, “have to lay off staff and try and find more electricians, the biggest impact would be the down turn in our ability to complete installations in a timely manner. Staff would be laid off.” Said Springer. 

To consider apprentices unlicensed workers is to invite a skills shortage. A shortage that will have negative effects on the ability of installers to complete projects on time and on budget. Springers Solar reports that it employs a large number of apprentices. “There needs to be ratios of electricians to labourers on large scale projects,” argues Springer, “there can’t be a blanket rule. I am not saying that labourers need to do electrical work or should be allowed, however, carrying panels and physically mounting them with the electrician to check the continuity of earthing and supervise should not be an issue.” 

The QLD Government believe they have struck the right balance between meeting their goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030, and worker and community safety. Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace says: “These new regulations are all about ensuring we keep pace with new and emerging technologies and keep workers safe.” 

Installing and removing solar panels does possess and element of danger, they’re immediately operational when exposed to sunlight. “Workers are at risk from electrocution and fires if solar panels are not properly earthed during installation.” Said Grace. 

The Government’s codes of practice have the support of Master Electricians Chief Executive Officer Malcom Richards, “We welcome these changes which will ensure safety for workers, consumers and the energy industry.”

Push back

The Clean Energy Council has been critical of the new regulations. “It’s absurd,” said CEC Director of Energy Generation, Anna Freeman. “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.” Freeman went on to liken the regulations as the equivalent of hiring an electrician to hook up your TV. 

“The changes will drive up the coast of building both large solar farms and commercial solar systems installed in places like shopping centres, schools, swimming pools and factories.” Said Freeman. “Estimates from solar businesses are that the cost of building commercial projects will increase by 10 to 20 percent, delaying the payback period for businesses and schools, and making many projects unviable.” 

It is an unusual move from QLD Labor considering the Federal Labor Party is currently running a campaign in which two of its key commitments are to the renewable energy sector and boosting apprenticeships, two commitments this code of practice enervates. Freeman contends that the QLD Government is not able to provide a single example of a safety incident involving the mounting and mounting of solar panels on a solar farm project. 

In a last-ditch effort to delay or rebuke these new measures the CEC brought together solar companies and stakeholders for an “emergency roundtable” in Brisbane yesterday. 

Author: Blake Matich