Jobs are being shed from solar farms and commercial solar installations across Queensland this week, as the Labor Palaszczuk government’s rushed-through rule change takes instant effect.
As Renewzeconomy has reported, the Electrical safety (solar farms) amendment regulation 2019 requires – as of Monday – the mounting, locating, fixing and removal of solar panels on projects and installations of 100kW and over are to be undertaken by licensed electricians, only.
The Clean Energy Council says the “absurd” rule – which it likens to requiring cafe wait staff to be qualified chefs – had businesses scrambling to accommodate, both financially and logistically.
“Across Queensland in the last few days, businesses have been asking labourers to down tools, and scrambling to source electricians to take over the straightforward task of panel mounting,” the CEC’s Anna Freeman said.
“The affected workers were trained, experienced and entirely capable of doing the mechanical tasks of mounting unconnected solar panels.
“The mounting of electrical equipment is not even classed as electrical work under the state Electrical Safety Act (2002), and it could easily be performed by local labourers and trades assistants as it has to date.
“This new regulation is like requiring university librarians to be fully qualified professors, or cafe wait staff to be qualified chefs. It’s absurd.”
Freeman echoed concerns from businesses that projects will be delayed where electricians cannot be found to do the work, exposing businesses to hefty penalty payments.
“The higher costs associated with imposing this change mean that investment in Queensland will slow and some investment decisions will be shelved. We have already been told by a number of our members that their projects now look more uncertain due to this new regulation.
And she raised further concerns – also voiced by local government groups in Queensland – that rural jobs will be the biggest casualty of the rule change.
“We are particularly concerned about this regulation locking communities out of many employment opportunities at solar farms in regional parts of the state, in return for expensive fly-in fly-out arrangements with electricians from metro areas,” Freeman said.
“We need to be doing more – not less – to maximise the local employment opportunities from the clean energy transition.”
Freeman said that industry was “deeply disappointed” with the state government, which had otherwise been very supportive of clean energy.
There is growing frustration, too – particularly with the finer details of the regulation amendment, which are confusing, to say the least.
As we reported here yesterday, apparent minor alterations to parts of the solar rule now allow unskilled labourers and trades assistants to hold panels in place on site, but only if an electrician is holding them at the same time.
Broken right down, it seems the only thing unskilled workers are not allowed to do – in terms of mounting and fixing the panels – is to use the rattle gun to bolt the panels into place.
Why this particular task is being taken away from TAs and labourers is a bit of a mystery.
As one reader observed, “any school kid with a Meccano set, (or who has) changed a tire on a bicycle, or built a billy cart, could bolt a solar panel to a frame.”
As for the CEC, the renewable energy body once again issued a call for the rule to be retracted, and replaced with an industry-approved approach to higher safety standards.
“We think that this puts Queensland’s chances of reaching its 50 per cent renewable energy target at risk,” Freeman said.
“We are calling on the government to rethink this costly and pointless regulation and come back to the table to find an alternative approach to dealing with its stated safety concerns.”