Following legal action launched by the managers of Brigalow Solar Farm, the controversial new solar installation laws set by the Queensland Government have been ruled invalid in the Supreme Court.
The Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 introduced on May 13 requires all work relating to mounting, locating, fixing and removing solar panels on solar farms of 100kW and over to be conducted by licensed electricians.
Just a day after the laws came into place, there were concerns over workers downing tools on solar farms as businesses scrambled to find licensed electricians.
The legislation was challenged by Maryborough Solar with the backing of the Clean Energy Council, which has opposed the legislation since it was announced in April.
Financial backer of the project Impact Investment Group said in a statement, “The regulation has been declared invalid. It was beyond the regulation-making power in the Electrical Safety Act”.
“The new regulation would have required solar panels to be put in place and fixed by licensed electricians, whereas they can now continue to be installed by trained labourers.”
Maryborough Solar director Lane Crockett said the decision will help Queensland keep growing a safe, clean and vibrant renewables industry.
The Queensland Government said it brought in the regulation to keep workers safe in the wake of unprecedented job growth, something the Electrical Trades Union said was a huge problem.
“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,” ETU Queensland state secretary Peter Ong said.
The decision by the Supreme Court to rule the laws invalid is a “kick in the guts”.
“What we have witnessed by this decision is multi-national companies who have a history of exploitation and a flagrant disregard for safety aided and abetted by Master Electricians Australia and the Clean Energy Council exploiting a loophole in the Electrical Safety Act to win a decision that puts developer profit before the safety of workers,” Mr Ong said.
“However, the industry is on notice, they will be held accountable, we will never take a backward step on safety.”
Construction at Brigalow Solar Farm commenced in January this year, and remains under development.
UPDATE: The Queensland Government has announced it will appeal the decision by the Supreme Court and with a vengeance.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace says while at the same time as appealing the decision, it would apply for a stay of the decision pending the outcome of the appeal so that while the technical legal matters are resolved, the safety measures that form the regulations are maintained.
“My department and their legal advisors have reviewed the written judgement overnight and advised me that there are solid grounds for appealing the decision,” Ms Grace said.
Ms Grace said the appeal is based on legal technicalities and has nothing to do with the safety argument.
She said the regulations were developed following advice from Crown Law and drafted by the Office of Queensland Parliamentary Counsel, which was the general process for the introduction of all regulations.
“We introduced these regulations following advice from an expert panel, including the Electrical Safety Commissioner, to ensure Queensland has the highest-possible electrical safety standards for its rapidly-growing solar electricity generation industry,” she said.
“When it comes to electrical safety there are no second chances. The safety of workers in this industry was the government’s motivation for developing these regulations and remains our motivation for appealing yesterday’s decision.”