The Clean Energy Council has warned against the repeat of a Tony Abbott-style renewable energy witch hunt as the federal Coalition government announces that it has initiated a review of Australia’s rooftop solar industry.
Reports emerged on Tuesday that federal energy minister Angus Taylor had ordered the Clean Energy Regulator to embark on an in-depth examination of the regulatory framework and practices of the solar industry.
“I have asked the Clean Energy Regulator, with the support of my department, to investigate the issues raised in a range of recent reports focused on the integrity of the rooftop solar sector,” Taylor said.
“Australians are world leaders in the uptake of rooftop PV, shown by the uninterrupted strong growth in rooftop solar.
“Protecting the integrity of a system that has such a wide ranging impact on Australian households and businesses is a top priority.”
The CER, which among other things oversees the running of the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES), has lately cracked down on non-compliance and fraud within the SRES, including the use of “dodgy” equipment such as unaccredited panels.
In February the CER took action against three solar installation companies for non-compliance and fraud within the national SRES, including the use of “dodgy” equipment such as unaccredited panels.
Meanwhile, in June, the latest CER data showed the proportion of unsafe and potentially unsafe PV systems had fallen from a peak of 5.5 per cent for 2014 installations (0.7% unsafe and 4.8% potentially unsafe) to 1.7 per cent of inspections in 2018 (0.7% unsafe, 1% potentially unsafe).
Exactly what will be investigated in the Taylor-ordered review is yet to be finalised, but the proper accreditation of installers, solar system product quality, and customer bullying by salespeople are expected to be on the agenda.
There has also been some suggestion that the review will look into the Clean Energy Council’s process of accreditation for rooftop solar installers, which can have the effect of ruling businesses in or out of state-based solar incentive programs such as Victoria’s Solar Homes rebate.
In a statement on Tuesday, the CEC said it welcomed any “genuine review” of the regulations and oversight of the Australian solar industry, particularly if it leads to improving the way the industry is regulated, delivering a more robust sector and a better outcome for customers.
But the CEC also said it would be “deeply concerned” if the Taylor-CER review became politicised, along the lines of what happened in 2015 when an Abbott government-initiated review of the solar industry was used “as part of its campaign to reduce support for renewable energy.”
“The Clean Energy Council plays an essential role across the industry,” CEC chief Kane Thornton said in a statement.
“It has been driving tougher standards for solar panels and inverters, increased training and support for installers and clamping down on poor behaviour from retailers.
“We are confident that this means the vast majority of solar customers get a good quality solar system that is safely installed.
“As the industry continues to grow and evolve, these regulatory approaches must keep up with consumer expectations, emerging business models and best practice regulation to ensure industry integrity and consumer protections.
“The Clean Energy Council looks forward to participating in this review and highlighting the opportunity for governments to harmonise and improve their approach to electrical safety, electrical licensing and auditing, consumer affairs and oversight of competition and marketing claims across the industry.”