Queensland solar regulations struck down in court

Solar panels in the state can continue to be installed by trained labourers instead of licensed electricians as state regulations introduced in May would have required.

Changes to Queensland’s solar panel installation regulations have been struck down in court after a challenge from a private equity-backed project.

The Queensland Government altered regulations in May so that only licensed electricians would be permitted to locate, mount, fix or remove solar panels on projects larger than 100 kW, prompting concerns from the industry that construction costs could rise and some projects could become unviable.

The rules were successfully challenged in the Queensland Supreme Court by Brigalow Solar Farm, an under-construction scheme owned by the IIG Solar Asset Fund, a vehicle managed by Melbourne-headquartered Impact Investment Group.

The Queensland government appealed following a ruling in Brigalow’s favour at the end of May, and the Supreme Court of Appeal this week held up the court’s initial decision.

The ruling means solar panels can now continue to be installed in the state by trained labourers, then electrically connected by licensed electricians.

Queensland industrial relations minister Grace Grace said the government was “disappointed by the result” but accepted the decision and moved to convene an “urgent industry roundtable” to discuss safety on large-scale solar farms.

“[This week’s] decision is about a technical legal ruling and does not deal with the substantive safety reasoning behind the making of the solar farms regulation,” Grace said.

“The government acted on the advice of an expert safety panel and Crown Law in relation to the making of the regulation. My department is currently considering the full extent of the decision, including whether legislative changes are required.”

She also argued that labourers’ jobs were “never under threat” as a result of the new regulations.

Industry welcomed the Court of Appeal’s ruling, as well as the prospect of a roundtable.

Lane Crockett, one of the solar farm company’s directors and the head of renewables for Impact Investment Group, said: “It’s certainly a relief; this gives us the certainty we need to move forward, hiring the workers we need to keep building this solar farm.”

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said the lobby group looked forward to working with the state government on developing a best practice safety framework for solar developments.

On the court decision, he said: “The industry should never have had to go through the courts to resolve something that could easily have been worked out with a full and proper consultation process.

“Queensland’s courts have now determined twice that the government’s regulation requiring licensed electricians to do the work of labourers and trades assistants is inconsistent with the Electrical Safety Act. That is because it is not electrical work. This decision is good news for regional jobs and communities, and good news for the clean energy transition in Queensland.”

The state aims to produce 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 from approximately 10 percent currently.

IIG is currently raising funds for the Solar Asset Fund, which owns Brigalow, targeting A$180 million ($126.1 million; €110.9 million) to invest in solar assets with exposure to Australia’s National Electricity Market. The fund also owns the Swan Hill Solar Farm and the Chinchilla Solar Farm and held a first close in July 2018 after raising A$55 million.