Queensland government loses appeal, contentious solar installation regulation remains invaild

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A Queensland Court of Appeal has upheld the Supreme Court’s ruling to invalidate a contentious solar installation regulation introduced by the state government.  The rules, which came into force mid May, required mounting, locating, fixing and removal of PV panels at solar farms larger than 100 kW to only be undertaken by licensed electricians – a job usually performed by general labourers.

The regulation was introduced following little consultation with the industry. The Queensland government fast-tracked the rules 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 new regulation 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). Under the Act, the mounting of electrical equipment was not classified as electrical work , meaning that it could easily be performed by general labourers and trades assistants as it has been to date.

As reported earlier, the rules were expected to blow Brigalow 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, 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. 

Only a week after the Brigalow project developers initiated the legal battle with the support of the Clean Energy Council (CEC) and Master Electricians Australia, the Supreme Court declared the state government regulation invalid. The Queensland government swiftly lodged an appeal against the court decision, but its challenge was dismissed with costs on Tuesday.

“This decision is good news for regional jobs and communities, and good news for the clean energy transition in Queensland.,” said CEC Chief Executive Kane Thornton. “After three months of chaos and uncertainty in the large-scale solar sector in Queensland, we look forward to being able to get on with the job of building and investing in new clean energy projects worth billions of dollars that the state needs to meet its renewable energy target.”