Installers who break the rules for claiming STCs are on notice, writes Robbie Nichols of the Clean Energy Council.

In 2020, the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) investigated fraudulent claims for Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs) under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). That investigation led to 36 installers having their Clean Energy Council (CEC) accreditation cancelled. Evidence from the CER proved unequivocally that in each case the installer who had signed the declaration for the eligibility of the system to claim STCs had not been on site for either the entire installation or at least for the start, middle and commissioning of the installation.

CER executive general manager Mark Williamson says the CER and CEC have been very clear that accredited installers must be onsite supervising the installation at least at the start, middle and end for it to be eligible for the Commonwealth STC entitlement.

“There are still a material number of CEC accredited installers signing off on the written statement of STC eligibility when they haven’t been on the site at all during installation,” Williamson says. “If they continue this practice, they will get caught and run the risk of being prosecuted, their accreditation being revoked and their state electrical licence being put in jeopardy.”

The CER says it has automated its sophisticated analytics model that can identify installers unlikely to have been on site in accordance with CEC requirements. Those installers can expect to receive statutory notices from the CER to prove they have been onsite at the addresses during installation.

Where necessary, the regulator has other investigative avenues to confirm whether accredited installers were on site during the installation. Williamson says the CER can and will disclose details of its investigations to the CEC and state or territory regulators in addition to pursuing prosecutions.

Catching the cowboys

As the CEC’s technical team leader, a small business owner, an installer and a CER inspector, I understand how frustrating it is for those of us abiding by the rules to hear of others who  are happy to sign off on things for a fee or to have unqualified, unsupervised people performing the installs while they sit in an air-conditioned office or on a beach somewhere.

The CER and the CEC will not tolerate this sort of behaviour.

“We understand these individuals will not like the actions the CEC has taken in cancelling their accreditation, but we don’t shy away from this critical task and have strong and transparent processes we follow when we are made aware of poor behaviour,” says CEC chief executive Kane Thornton.

“We note recent public comments from some people concerning actions we have taken to ensure compliance. While the CEC will not make public comments on specific cases and actions, we will defend our actions vehemently and continue to enforce the standards of practice critical to protecting the reputation and future of the Australian solar industry.

“The vast majority of solar installers do the right thing and have nothing to worry about.”

Any accredited installer suspected of undertaking this behaviour will be sent a “show cause” letter from the CEC, asking them to provide evidence that they were physically on site for the entire installation or, as a minimum, for the beginning (set-up), middle and end (commissioning).

“One way or another, this practice of accredited installers signing written statements without supervising the installation is going to stop,” Williamson says. “We hope the offenders choose the path of compliance in the future as we won’t hesitate to take enforcement action.”

The obligations relating to the installer being on site are detailed in version 13 of the CEC’s Installation Guidelines. Apart from the number of installations an installer can undertake in a day (now two), the obligations have been the same since version six of the guidelines, issued in September 2010.

The CEC has recently reiterated accredited people’s obligations in the December 2020 issue of EcoGeneration, Installer News and a Toolbox Talk video.

Compliance made easy

To make things as easy as we can for those following the rules, the CEC’s new commissioning checklist includes declarations for the accredited person responsible for the installation to sign and for the system owner to sign.

The CEC has also recently added a section for a situation where you are not going to be on site for the entire installation. If this is the case, you must nominate the licensed electrician in charge of the installation in your absence. You must also consider if this person is appropriate for the supervision of any apprentices or other workers on site in relation to the local state electrical regulator licensing and supervision requirements.

Installers are required to maintain a record of their installations, including evidence that they were on site for the installation.

The CEC is also working on a digital platform that will assist installers in meeting all their obligations relating to documentation and maintaining a record of their installations. Some of the Solar Panel Validation apps also provide options for installers to prove they have been on site. The CEC and CER will jointly communicate further on this issue with all accredited installers in the coming weeks, including expectations on record keeping.

Serious consequences

If you are one of the installers either signing off on work you did not do or signing off on sites you did not attend, be warned.

To all the installers doing the right thing, these investigations and enforcement action will hopefully get rid of the dodgy installers, forcing the companies that deliberately use them to stop.

My suggestion is for you all to value your accreditation. You are highly qualified people that have returned to do additional training to obtain accreditation. Your knowledge, experience and skills make that an asset that should be considered when negotiating installation rates.

The CEC has developed a sub-contractor agreement template to assist you if you need it. It will help identify roles and responsibilities when sub-contracting and hopefully assist in a mutually beneficial working relationship.

Keep these things in mind when you get the next call offering you installs. 

Robbie Nichols is technical team lead at the Clean Energy Council.