28 May 2019

Solar farm safety costs catch contractors in the dark

This article was written by Shannon Etwell, Philippa Robinson and Aisling Scott.

Update | 3 June 2019

The Supreme Court has declared the key provision in the Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 (Qld) (Regulation) invalid in a decision handed down on 29 May 2019. More details >


Alert | 28 May 2019

Amendments to the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 (Qld) and a new solar farm code of practice now require all ‘work’ on solar farm PV modules to be conducted by licensed electrical workers. These amendments will increase the cost of solar farm construction.

Here’s what you need to know.

Background

The Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 (Qld) (Regulation) and Construction and Operation of Solar Farms Code of Practice 2019 (Qld) (Code) became operational on 13 May 2019.

The key intention of the Regulation and Code is to ensure that PV module work is undertaken in a way that is electrically safe and minimises risks to health and safety.

Key amendment

The Regulation inserts a new s73A into the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 (Qld) which requires that (Key Amendment):

(a)  ‘work’ on a PV module is conducted by a licensed electrical worker who holds a licence authorising performance of the ‘work’; and

(b)  PV modules are compliant with the wiring rules, namely AS/NSZ 3000.

‘Work’ is defined broadly and includes:

(a)  work on the PV module that would be ‘electrical work’ if the PV module were electrical equipment (noting that definition of ‘electrical work’ under the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (Qld) is broad);

(b)  locating, mounting or fixing the PV module in a place at a solar farm; and

(c)  removing the PV module from a place at a solar farm.

Work does not include moving, packing or unpacking the PV module. However, the Code recommends that a competent person trained in the hazards associated with PV modules perform these tasks.

Application and responsibility

The Regulation applies to solar farms which are operated for the purpose of conducting a business or undertaking and are used to generate electricity with a total rated capacity of at least 100kW.

Responsibility for enforcing the Key Amendment is on a business or undertaking whose work includes performance of ‘work’ on PV modules. Whilst this responsibility may fall to contractors and sub-contractors, the additional cost of engaging licensed electrical workers to carry out these works will ultimately be passed on to project developers.

Code

The Code has been approved by the Minister and a court may rely on it in determining compliance with duties under the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (Qld) and Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld).  It provides practical guidance to duty holders on how to comply with their work, health and safety duties and electrical safety duties during the design, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance and end of life management of solar farms.

Businesses may either comply with the Code or manage hazards and risks in a way that is different to the Code provided but provides a standard of health and safety that is equivalent to or higher than the standard required under the Code.

Cost of amendments

The Explanatory Note to the Regulation estimates that the amendments will increase the overall cost of a solar farm project by between 0.56% - 1.1%. The cost increase is calculated off a 270,000 PV module, 100MV solar farm with a $200 million construction cost. No further calculation details have been provided.

Please let us know if you require more detailed information or advice regarding the Regulation or Code.


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