The Clean Energy Council (CEC) will convene an emergency roundtable to address new rules giving licensed electricians exclusive rights to install solar panels on Queensland solar farms.
State Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace last month issued the amendment to the Solar Farm Code of Practice. The regulation does not affect residential solar installations.
The regulation, which comes into effect May 13, means only licensed electricians can perform manual tasks like mounting, locating, fitting or carrying solar panels on solar projects with a total rated capacity of at least 100 kW.
Currently, trained labourers and trade assistants carry out installations on Queensland solar farms. A licensed electrician then checks the electrical connections.
The CEC says the new rules will destroy job opportunities for solar workers across regional Queensland. It will also put local non-electricians out of work and increase installation costs for investors.
“The solar industry is stunned after being almost completely shut out of the consultation process,” said Anna Freeman, CEC Director of Energy Generation.
“We were only provided with a very short opportunity to submit some comments just before Christmas – which were subsequently ignored. We share the government’s commitment to safety and we are confident we can work together to find a better way forward that won’t destroy solar investment and jobs.”
New solar regulations: why now?
The new Code of Practice involved consultation with a range of industry groups and trade unions. It redefines what is, and is not, electrical work that must be performed by licensed electricians.
In a media release, Minister Grace said she was responding to industry and stakeholder concerns about untrained labourers and backpackers mounting or removing “live” solar panels.
Upon exposure to sunlight, solar panels begin generating power, she said. Hence, only qualified electricians can safely handle them on Queensland solar farm project sites.
“Removing panels can be even more dangerous,” she added. “These are not jobs for unlicensed workers.”
New rules will harm Queensland solar farms industry: CEC
However, the CEC disagrees. The new rules require solar farms to employ licensed electricians to even bolt panels onto mounting frames. This would then dramatically increase the cost of developing Queensland’s solar farm sector.
“We estimate that a 100 MW solar farm may need to engage an additional 45 electricians to build a project,” Freeman says.
Furthermore, the CEC says the government cannot provide evidence of a single safety breach involving labourers mounting unconnected panels.