A Queensland solar farm nearing completion is taking the state government to court over new rules that allow only electricians to work with solar panels. From May 13, all handling, locating and mounting of panels on Queensland solar farms must be done by licensed electricians. These new solar farm regulations may impact the viability of the industry.
The 34.5 MW Brigalow Solar Farm is under development near Pittsworth in south-east Queensland. Owners Impact Investment Group are behind the legal challenge.
IIG’s Lane Crockett told the Guardian that the new regulation would likely affect future investment decisions. He said it made solar farms more expensive and finding enough qualified electricians also complicated construction.
Clean Energy Council supports court action
The Clean Energy Council supports the legal action, after convening its own emergency consultation with industry over the new solar farm regulations.
Anna Freeman, the CEC’s Director of Energy Generation, said the industry was “deeply disappointed” that there was a need to pursue legal action.
“We believe that the new regulation is inconsistent with the Queensland Electrical Safety Act, as it affects activities that are not classified as electrical work under that legislation,” she said.
“The Brigalow Solar Farm feels obliged to challenge the regulation through the courts because the industry has been unable to resolve the matter in discussions with the government since the regulation was announced in April.”
Industry opposes ‘electricians-only’ solar farm regulations
Master Electricians Australia, representing electrical contractors, has also joined the fight against the solar installation regulations.
CEO Malcolm Richards said last week they will add endless “red tape” to solar farm installations. Furthermore, hiring qualified electricians to do labouring work would add to construction costs.
“Our members didn’t do a four-year electrical apprenticeship so they could lift heavy solar panels,” he said.
Government: it’s about safety in the workplace
Announcing the solar farm regulations in April, Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said it would keep workers safe.
National Electrical and Communications Association executive director Peter Lamont also said the changes would make the solar industry safer.
“The mounting, locating, fixing, earthing and removing of solar panels at solar farms is dangerous work and it should not be undertaken by unlicensed workers. We fully support the new changes,” he said.
Marginal Loss Factors and solar farm ROI
Another setback hit solar farms when the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released its annual Marginal Loss Factors in May.
The MLF figures represent electricity lost to heat between a generator and the grid. Because of its MLF, a solar farm that generates 10 MW may only receive payment for 9.5 MW.
This affects remote solar farms especially. It means that investors cannot be certain about returns as the MLF vary from year to year. The CEC has called for a review of AEMO’s method for calculating MLF.