Solar panels at Windlab's Kennedy Energy Park near Hughenden in Queensland
Solar panels at Windlab's Kennedy Energy Park near Hughenden in Queensland

Hundreds of solar jobs to go under new laws

HUNDREDS of Queenslanders will be laid off from solar projects, with businesses preparing for their budgets to balloon by 20 per cent because of laws "rushed" by the State Government.

Brisbane-based GEM Energy, which has several contracts to install solar panels across the state, fears many of its projects will become financially unviable.

The regulations, which come into effect from May 13, dictate that only licensed electricians can mount, locate, fix or remove solar panels on solar farms with a "total rated capacity of at least 100kW."

GEM chief exdecutive officer Jack Hooper said the company was expecting to lay off between 30 to 50 trade assistants across the state and could face thousands of dollars in liquidated damages if they were forced to delay projects.

"It's going to have cost increases of 15 to 20 per cent," he said.

"It's going to make some projects no longer financially viable because of the cost increases and as a result there's going to be less work coming through."

 

GEM Energy founder Jack Hooper
GEM Energy founder Jack Hooper

The laws, which were a major win for the Electrical Trades Union, were estimated to only increase the total cost of projects by up to 1.1 per cent.

They sent shockwaves through the industry when they were announced last month, with Clean Energy Council concerned farms would be left scrambling.

CEC energy generation director Anna Freeman said it would be virtually impossible to electrocute yourself by handling an unconnected panel.

"You're at greater risk from plugging in a toaster," she said.

"This (laws) will drive up the cost of building both large solar farms and commercial solar systems installed in places like shopping centres, schools, swimming pools and factories.

"The cost of building commercial solar projects is expected to increase by 10 to 20 per cent."

Mr Hooper, who claims he was blindsided, said there was no difference in safety when handling 25kW as opposed to 200kW.

He also called for a six-month delay so a proper review could be conducted.

"This is what's really broken about this - you could install 299 panels and that work is deemed being able to be done by a trade assistant but the second you install 300 panels … the risk profile changes," he said.

"There will be hundreds of (job) losses (across the state)."

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace did not address concerns about job losses yesterday but said the Government was confident the regulation achieved the right balance between the renewable energy target and ensuring safety.

"Unlicensed workers such as backpackers and labourers should not be mounting and removing live solar panels, this is electrical work and that needs to be done by licensed workers," she said.