Brisbane plumber sent to jail for “sophisticated” fraud over solar heat pumps

Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator has claimed a significant win in the battle against non compliance in the solar installation industry, after a Brisbane plumber was sentenced to four-and-a-half years jail for falsely claiming to have installed more than 400 solar heat pumps.

The CER said on Wednesday that the man, Brett Stephen Muldoon, would serve a minimum jail term of 15 months after pleading guilty to one charge of fraud and production of false and misleading documents.

The sentence, handed down this week by the Brisbane District Court, is the result of an investigation by the regulator, into compliance with the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme under the Renewable Energy Target.

The investigation found Muldoon obtained just under $400,000 by producing false and misleading documentation claiming that non-existent solar air-source heat pumps had been installed at more than 400 properties throughout Queensland.

This enabled him to improperly create 11,180 small-scale technology certificates – or STCs – between 2013-14, the CER said.

STCs – one created and validated – act as a form of rebate, allowing holders to recoup a portion of the cost of purchasing and installing a small-scale solar system, or transfer to other individuals and businesses at a negotiated price.

District Court Judge William Everson described the offence as a sophisticated fraud – spanning 415 instances – that called for a “deterrent” sentence.

The fraudulent creation of certificates for small-scale solar installations including solar hot water and rooftop panels has been a key focus of the Clean Energy regulator, as the market – for the latter, at least – has boomed in Australia.

And more than a few companies and individuals have been caught out. In late 2017, the Regulator took action against an PV installer Green and Gold Solar Australia installing rooftop PV systems without compliant Victorian Certificates of Electrical Safety, therefore making them ineligible for STCs.

Later that same year, CER took enforcement action against Emerging Energy for the improper creation of STCs for non-compliant solar PV panels and installations that were not done by a Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited installer.

The jail sentence handed down this week, however, is a rare outcome of enforcement action taken by the CER, occurring on only one other occasion in Australia.

In that case, in April 2016, the director of a Queensland solar retail business was sentenced to four years imprisonment, after being charged with fraudulently obtaining more than $260,000 by producing false and misleading documentation claiming that non-existent solar PV systems had been installed between 2012-13.

“Fraudulent activity, such as providing false information to create small-scale technology certificates, is a threat to the integrity of the schemes administered by the CER,” the Regulator said in a statement.

“Individuals and companies who participate in the schemes and wilfully commit an act of fraud or non-compliance, such as falsely creating certificates, will be subject to enforcement action which may lead to criminal conviction and jail, as in this case.”

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