Australian solar installation inspection program launched amidst political row

The NSW Government began the inspection program this week after safety concerns were raised on the back of a small number of sample inspections carried out in February. The Australian solar industry has slammed the program claiming that it aims to undermine the growth in photovoltaic installations and distract from the NSW Government’s changes to their Solar Bonus FIT scheme late last month.

On April 29, the Solar Bonus Scheme was closed to new applicants and customers eligible for a 60 cent per kilowatt hour tariff for electricity generation were reduced to 40 cents. The government claims that costs for the scheme had blown out by over $750 million. Documents leaked to the press have disputed this figure indicating that it has been exaggerated by more than $200 million.

Protests over government handling of issue

Protests were organized in response to the moves and the Australian Solar Energy Industries Association said that inventory, in anticipation of continued demand resultant from the FIT scheme, is stacking up. The Australian Solar Energy Society (ASES) has been scathing of the FIT cuts and the safety inspection program, and claim that the government is feeling the heat over their handling of the issue. "This is a government that is under enormous pressure, this is a shambolic response," said ASES chief executive John Grimes

The safety inspections will be carried out by the NSW Department of Fair Trading and questions have been raised over their timing, given that the initial sample tests were completed almost three months ago. The office of Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts told pv magazine that he was only given the results of the sample inspections late last week and made the results public within days.

The Minister also said that in the small sample of homes inspected, five percent had a serious safety problem. He specified that the installation fault was related to incorrect polarity at the solar panel DC isolator. "We currently have 120,000 unit installed across the state, so potentially 6,000 units could have this serious problem."

Electricians call for national inspection program

A body representing electrical contractors have called for the NSW safety inspection campaign to be extended nationwide, on the back of the sample program. National Electricity and Communications Association chief executive James Tinslay has described the five per cent figure as "massive" and said that there could be problems throughout the country. "I don’t see why results in NSW would be widely different from anywhere else," he said.

The NSW Department of Fair Trading is expected to provide more details on the issue tomorrow.