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Complaints rise to one a day as report reveals a quarter of home installations are faulty

Clarissa Bye, The Daily Telegraph, August 8, 2019 12:07am

Complaints about dodgy solar panel installations have hit more than one a day in NSW in an alarming parallel with the Rudd Labor government’s disastrous home insulation scheme with a new report showing a quarter of home installations are faulty.

While home solar panels are booming — a record 6.5 panels are being installed every minute in Australia — safety inspectors have found an alarming number failed basic safety measures.

And fraudsters are also taking advantage of the federal Government’s subsidy scheme, with phantom systems, non-licensed installers and poor quality panels disguised as approved products.

The news comes as the renewable energy regulator, the Clean Energy Regulator, reported on Wednesday a solar installer was jailed this week for more than four years for scamming $400,000 from the system.

A record 6.5 panels are being installed every minute in Australia. Picture: Charles Brewer Tradie Brett Stephen Muldoon pretended to install around 425 solar heated hot-water systems, but instead pocketed around $7500 a week to feed a gambling habit. He falsified 425 compliance certificates, using these as proof of him installing hundreds of systems that were never put in.

The regulator agency’s inspectors audited 3678 home solar installations during 2018 and discovered 22.5 per cent, or 828 were unsafe or substandard, its latest report to federal parliament reveals.

Unsafe systems are immediately dangerous and a safety hazard, while substandard systems need to be repaired and could include cables exposed and electrical items not properly waterproofed.

Water leaking into systems was a common problem. Information collected by the agency led to “enforcement action” being taken against 590 installers in 2018–173 of them had their accreditation suspended and five had it cancelled.

Australians are flocking to rooftop solar — installations jumped 24 per cent from 2017 and we now have the highest per capita uptake of small scale rooftop solar in the world.

But many of the solar panel firms are being forced to reinstall “irregular systems”, including Baybak Solar from Griffith, whose director Nasir Kahloo has been ordered to change more than hundreds of panels that “were not the model their label purported them to be”.

Mr Kahloo would not answer questions on Wednesday, but in a published decision against him, the regulator said he had provided “false information” in 41 installed systems, and will now have to replace them at his own cost.

Nasir Kahloo has been ordered to change hundreds of panels that “wasn’t the model their label purported them to be”. According to industry experts, one of the big problems with the solar scheme is despite tough guidelines and accreditation, dodgy panels are coming in from overseas disguised as approved products, leading to potential fires and electrocution risks.

NSW Fair Trading has also received a flood of complaints about solar panel installers, with 586 complaints, or more than one a day, in the 12 months to June 30 for defective work and defective goods.

Earlier this year 35 children were evacuated from a Riverina childcare centre after a fire broke out in rooftop solar panels. Since October 2016, Fire and Rescue NSW has responded to 18 fires involving solar panels.

According to the Consumer Action Law Centre, “cowboys” have taken advantage of insufficient regulatory standards, ripping off families with unworkable and hazardous systems.

Chief executive Gerard Brody said they had seen examples of people’s solar panels not properly connected to the grid, faulty products and a failure in the installation.

Consumer Action Law Centre CEO Gerard Brody said consumers have been forced to go the tribunal to sort out dodgy solar panel installations. “There can be cowboys coming into the market quite easily,” he said.

“Another problem is people have to deal with a number of entities when they get them installed. There’s not one party that takes overall responsibility, and that means when issues arise consumers can be handballed between the energy retailer, the distributor, the installer, the electrician and so on.”

He said consumers end up having to go to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which was costly and time-consuming.

Instead the centre proposes a “whole of service warranty”, covering the entire solar system for a period such as 10 years, with a one-stop shop like an Ombudsman’s service for consumers.

Faulty products are also flooding the market.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Clean Energy Regulator has shared its data with state agencies. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch The agency reported that the industry body, the Clean Energy Council, delisted 13 solar panel brands, suspended five and also delisted the brands of six inverters — the element that converts DC electricity into AC.

Energy and Emission Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said the Government had empowered the Clean Energy Regulator to share its data with the state agencies in charge of enforcing safety standards.

“I have brought these serious matters to the attention of my state and territory colleagues,” he said.

NSW Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson said a “targeted compliance program for solar panel installations” would be developed.