Solar industry hits back at new Queensland regulations
A COMPANY planning to build a solar farm in Gladstone worries new regulations could force it to hire fly-in-fly-out workers.
Renew Estate is assessing the impact new rules fast-tracked by the Queensland Government this week could have on the construction of its 300 megawatt Rodds Bay project.
Of concern to the solar industry is the introduction of a rule that would allow only licensed electricians to mount, locate, fix or remove solar panels on projects of 100kW or more.
The Clean Energy Council has slammed the new regulations, set to be introduced from May 13, claiming they were made without industry consultation or justification.
"It's the equivalent of having to call an electrician as soon as they've unpacked a new television from the box, in order to hang it on the wall," Director of energy generation Anna Freeman said.
"The existing regulations already ensure that an electrician carries out the electrical cabling and earth testing."
The CEC said an additional 45 electricians would be required under the new rules to build a 100MW solar project.
It said with more than 3200MW of solar capacity under construction or financially committed, the changes could mean 1450 additional electricians would be required at short notice.
"It's unlikely that such large numbers of sparkies will be found in the small regional and rural centres where these projects are usually located," Ms Freeman said.
"So, it will result in fewer jobs for locals on new clean energy projects, more fly-in, fly-out workers, and increased pressure on the availability of electricians throughout Queensland."
Renew Estate director Simon Currie said the company recognised the need for rigorous safety regulations but it still needed to analyse the impact the changes would have on its projects.
"We are still assessing ... whether it will require any additional skilled support from beyond Gladstone, given our ethos to maximise the use of local talent and service providers," Mr Currie said.
But the Electrical Trades Union has spoken in support of the changes, describing it as a "sensible" new safety code.
"We the ETU have 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," ETU Queensland secretary Peter Ong said.
"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."
Queensland Minister for Industry Grace Grace said the rule change had been fast-tracked to address concerns about unlicensed workers, including backpackers and labourers, endangering themselves and others.
She said the increased safety regulations were needed because of the "unprecedented growth" in solar projects as Queensland moves closer to its 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.
Renew Estate's solar farm, expected to create 300 construction jobs, is one of several planned for the Gladstone region.
Acciona also plans to build a solar farm at Aldoga, which would require a construction workforce of 240 people.
"We are still assessing the extent to which the new regulations might require additional electricities on-site and what cost impact that might have on the project and the price at which we can offer electricity to customers," Mr Currie said.
Renew Estate previously planned to build a second solar farm at Yarwun, but due to community backlash due to its proximity to residents, the project was scrapped.
Mr Currie said Renew Estate was exploring opportunities for more large scale solar projects or battery storage projects in Gladstone.