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Emergency solar roundtable to address rushed rules that will cost jobs for Queensland communities

The Clean Energy Council will convene an emergency roundtable in Brisbane tomorrow with representatives of the solar industry and stakeholders, to address new rules rushed through by the Queensland Government which will cost hundreds of jobs in regional communities.

Anna Freeman, the Clean Energy Council’s Director of Energy Generation, said with just a few days remaining before the new regulation comes into force, the industry is in a state of shock and confusion about imminent lay-offs and what will happen to projects from next week.

“The solar industry is stunned after being almost completely shut out of the consultation process. We were only provided with a very short opportunity to submit some comments just before Christmas – which were subsequently ignored,” Ms Freeman said.

“It’s time to press pause on this rushed process so we can sit down with the Queensland Government and other industry stakeholders to work this through. 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.”

The new regulations require licensed electrical workers to perform tasks such as lifting, mounting and fixing unplugged solar panels, which are fully insulated, extra low voltage, and safe to handle. This is mechanical work which is currently carried out by trained labourers and trade assistants.

“Queensland’s Electrical Safety Act (2002) states that ‘the locating, mounting and fixing of electrical equipment’ is not electrical work if the task doesn’t involve connecting the equipment to an electricity supply. So it is difficult to understand why an electrician will soon be required to mount solar panels ,” Ms Freeman said.

“The shock rule change is particularly troubling given that the Government has not been able to demonstrate evidence of a single safety breach or incident involving labourers or trade assistants mounting unconnected panels, despite having completed an extensive program of solar farm safety audits over the past year.

“Electricians are already required to test the integrity of the electrical earthing, and to undertake the electrical wiring, making this additional regulation unnecessary.

“This rule change is significant because it will cut local communities out of many of the job opportunities on solar farms across regional and rural Queensland. It will also result in job losses for many labourers and trades assistants currently working in the commercial-scale solar sector across the state, which has doubled in size in the last year alone.

“This is a deeply disappointing outcome for those workers who are trained, experienced and entirely capable of doing the mechanical tasks of mounting unconnected solar panels.

“Queensland has set itself a challenging renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030. While the government should be congratulated for its ambition, meeting this goal will require a strong pipeline of projects – about 700 MW of new generating capacity will need to be completed each year from now until the end of the next decade.

“Ultimately this change will make Queensland a less attractive destination for solar investment.

“We are calling for the government to delay the introduction of the regulation and consult with the solar industry to find an alternative pathway forward for meeting our shared safety goals,” she said.

An emergency roundtable of solar companies and industry stakeholders will be held in Brisbane this morning. Details provided on request.

Please contact Mark Bretherton, the Clean Energy Council’s Director – Media on 0413 556 981 for more information or to arrange an interview.