CEC: Workers down tools at Queensland solar farms

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The Clean Energy Council (CEC) says rushed new legislation from Queensland’s Palaszczuk Government has led to workers downing tools at Queensland solar farms as businesses scramble to source electricians.

The new Construction and Operation of Solar Farms Code of Practice 2019 and the Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 was brought in on May 13 by the State Government to keep workers safe in the wake of unprecedented job growth.

The legislation mandates that only licensed electricians can mount, locate, fix or remove solar panels on farms with a total rated capacity of at least 100kW.

The CEC has likened the move to a homeowner calling an electrician as soon as they’ve unpacked a new television.

“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,” CEC director of energy generation Anna Freeman said. 

Related article:CEC criticises new Qld solar farm legislation

“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.

ETU Queensland state secretary Peter Ong said the ETU has been on the front foot raising the issues about the dangers of using unlicensed workers such as backpackers and other unskilled workers on these farms.

“It was literally like the wild west where workers were picked up from backpackers and driven to the sites similar to a mango or banana farm, it was an accident waiting to happen,” Mr Ong said.

“Safety audit after safety audit revealed unreasonable risks including faulty installations being performed by unlicensed workers, in some cases these installations were putting the workers themselves and the public at risk as well as requiring re working and in some cases complete re-installation.”

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Ms Freeman said 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,” she said.

“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. We need to be doing more – not less – to maximise the local employment opportunities from the clean energy transition.”