A Perth-based rooftop solar business is being investigated for allegedly using dodgy paperwork to access an estimated $2.5 million worth of benefits under the federal government’s small-scale renewable energy scheme.
The Clean Energy Regulator, which oversees the SRES, said an investigation was underway into the alleged falsification of documents required under Western Australian electrical licensing laws and used to qualify for the Commonwealth subsidy.
The CER said its investigators suspected that false documents had been used for more than 640 rooftop solar installations in Western Australia since 2018, resulting in the potential wrongful creation of around $2.5 million in small-scale technology certificates (STCs).
The investigation had included the execution of a search warrant for a Perth-based business earlier this month, carried out in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police, in search of evidence of fraudulent activity.
“While the installer of the solar panel systems is a licenced electrician and accredited under the rules administered by the Clean Energy Council, it is alleged that neither the installer nor the business had the necessary electrical contractor’s licence under state laws in Western Australia,” the Regulator said.
“There is no suspicion or allegations at this stage that the systems are unsafe or not operating as they should,” it added.
The creation of STCs for rooftop solar PV systems currently requires – as well as compliance with the laws of each state an territroty – a Clean Energy Council accredited installer to conduct the installation and fulfil their obligations under CEC guidelines.
But this looks likely to change, after the findings of a major review into the “integrity” of Australia’s rooftop solar industry recommended the transfer of regulatory power from CEC to the CER, in a bid to better prevent rorting of the SRES system and to further protect consumers from defective or dangerous installations.
As RenewEconomy explained here, the report recommended giving the CER full responsibility for determining and regulating which retailers, installers and component manufacturers were eligible to participate in the SRES.
Similarly, the CER would also take over the responsibility for setting the rules for listing key solar PV components – including panels, batteries and inverters – as eligible for Commonwealth entitlements in the form of small-scale technology certificates, or STCs
The report also proposed a number of measures to tighten eligibility criteria for accredited installers, including a new obligation for installers to prove they were onsite during the installation.
The review found that – while the CEC had “undertaken its regulatory roles diligently over a long period” – it was difficult for it to maintain effective enforcement against accredited parties found doing the wrong thing without the statutory investigation powers of a Commonwealth regulator.
And cases like this one in Western Australia, which is alleged to have been going on since 2018, seem to support this point of view.
The CER said that when the investigation into the Perth case concluded, it would consider referring a brief of evidence to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. It said a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years could be delivered for fraud related offences.