On 13 May 2019, new regulations governing the commercial installation of solar panels on all Queensland solar farms came into force.

What are the regulations?

The new regulations were announced by the Queensland government on 9 April 2019 and are contained in the Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 (Qld), supported by the Construction and Operation of Solar Farms Code of Practice 2019. Both instruments commence on the same date.

What is the change?

Starting on 13 May 2019, only licensed electricians can mount, locate, fix or remove solar panels on commercial solar farms with a total rated capacity of at least 100 kW. Previously, other skilled and unskilled tradespersons and labourers could undertake this work. A maximum fine of $5,222 is imposed for noncompliance.

The change does not however impact the moving, packing or unpacking of the solar panels, which can still be undertaken by labourers who are not electricians.

Critically, the new regulations  apply to projects that are currently under construction as well as new projects. Therefore, from 13 May 2019, all stakeholders in large-scale solar farm projects need to ensure they are able to comply with the new requirements.

Why the change and what is the expected impact?

The Queensland government have introduced this change as a strategy to improve worker safety in the commercial solar farm industry, which has expanded rapidly in that state over the last few years. Concerns had been raised within the government that the fact that solar panels generate power as soon as they are exposed to light meant that unqualified workers were at risk of being electrocuted during the mounting and de-mounting of panels.

There has however been concern raised by the industry that the cost of solar projects could increase significantly under the new regulations. The Clean Energy Council estimates the change will add between 10% and 20% to the construction cost of a typical commercial solar farm, and extend the payback period of commercial-scale installations from five to six years.

Developers may also experience difficulty sourcing or financing the increased numbers of licensed electricians necessary to complete current projects under construction. In particular, regional Queensland employers commonly struggle to fill vacancies for electricians, citing relocation costs and competitive salaries offered by the mining industry.

From 13 May 2019, projects already under construction are required to comply with the new regulations and absorb any additional associated costs. Where project contracts have already been signed, there may be limited opportunities to pass on these cost increases to the business and the consumers in the short term.

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