Following legal action filed by a solar farm developer, the Supreme Court of Queensland has declared invalid a new solar installation regulation introduced by the Queensland government. The rules, which came into force on May 13, required mounting, locating, fixing and removal of PV panels at solar farms larger than 100 kW to only be undertaken by licensed electricians.
The Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 was challenged by Maryborough Solar – owners of the 35 MW Brigalow Solar Farm in southern Queensland – on the basis that it was inconsistent with the Electrical Safety Act (2002). The mounting of electrical equipment was not classified as electrical work under the state Electrical Safety Act (2002), meaning that it could easily be performed by general labourers and trades assistants as it has been to date.
According to media reports, the new rules were expected to blow project costs by more than $2.6 million. Lane Crockett – one of Maryborough Solar’s directors and the head of renewables for Impact Investment Group, which owns the Brigalow Solar Farm through Maryborough Solar, has stated in an affidavit the project’s fixed contract price had not factored in the need for around 60 licensed electricians. The company’s original plan was to hire local laborers to carry out the manual work.
In delivering his determination, Justice Bradley declared the amendment regulation Section 73A to be beyond the regulation-making powers of Queensland’s Electrical Safety Act. The decision was welcomed by the Clean Energy Council (CEC) and described as “a victory for common sense”.
“The industry is obviously disappointed that this issue came down to a court challenge. Our preference was for a proper consultation process and full consideration of its regulatory impact,” said Anna Freeman, the CEC’s Director of Energy Generation. “Mounting and fixing unconnected solar panels to a rail is mechanical work – not electrical work – and we are very pleased the Supreme Court of Queensland has ruled in the industry’s favour.”
Following little consultation, the Queensland government fast-tracked the new rules mid May. It made the move despite warnings that the now invalid regulation would put hundreds of local jobs at risk and could bring some projects to a standstill. While the state government argued they had struck the right balance between meeting their goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030, and worker and community safety, installers warned the “new safety code” was set to cost jobs, delaying installations and making some projects unviable. It has been suggested the new regulations could push up the cost of commercial and industrial solar systems by some 20%.
“The solar industry recognises that safety is paramount, but this new regulation did nothing to improve the safety of workers and was not justified by the government’s own safety data,” Freeman said. “Any future changes should be formulated in consultation with the industry and all relevant stakeholders, and should be based on evidence. We look forward to working with the Queensland Government to help achieve our shared aims of safely delivering on its 50% renewable energy target by 2030.”