UPDATE July 27: Bell Solar has had its operating license renewed for another three years by the NSW Office of Fair Trading, and any concerns raised by the regulator have now been fully resolved.
The concerns in question related to less than 1% of Bell Solar’s customers and resulted from the conduct of a small handful of third-party sub-contractors. The Office of Fair Trading has agreed that the operating systems Bell Solar currently has in place will meet the needs of all consumers.
One of Australia’s largest solar installation companies is fighting to retain its licence to operate in New South Wales after Fair Trading alleged it was not fit to hold one.
In April, the NSW Commissioner for Fair Trading refused to renew Bell Solar’s electrical contractor licence, having found that the company was not a ‘fit and proper’ person to hold the licence.
Bell Solar trades under the brand Sunboost, and is owned by National Solar Energy Group, which recently rescued the troubled Todae Solar brand from administration.
The company claims to be “largest solar panel retailer in Australia”, having installed more than 39,000 installations nationally over the last four years. Sunboost has used prominent sport stars, including Allan Border, Merv Hughes and Dermott Brereton to promote its solar products.
But the company could be prevented from operating in New South Wales if it is unable to secure the renewal of its electrical contractor licence.
The Commissioner for Fair Trading said that it refused the licence renewal due to incorrect information being provided to Fair Trading and alleged that the company had “demonstrated an intent to mislead” to secure the electrical contractor licence. NSW Fair Trading said that it had also received a total of 255 enquiries and complaints relating to Bell Solar.
The Commissioner also said that Bell Solar’s nominated supervisor Mayouf Boucetta, was not an employee of the company and had been overseas for an extended period when specialist work was being undertaken by the company.
Fair Trading also alleged that Bell Solar had breached a number of provisions of the Home Building Act, using unlicensed and unsupervised workers to install solar systems and that the conduct of the company had amounted to a “pattern of behaviour” that was inconsistent with the obligations of an electrical contractor licence holder.
In May, Bell Solar went to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to seek and administrative review of Fair Trading’s decision to deny it the licence renewal and also requested a “stay” of the licence refusal decision, while Fair Trading undertook an internal review of the decision.
Bell Solar argued that it had signed contracts to install more than 1,700 solar panel systems in homes across New South Wales, and with the licence refusal in place, these customers would be adversely impacted.
Bell Solar also argued that the licence refusal would potentially jeopardise the warranty services and maintenance for the 21,000 customers that had already had a system installed.
Regarding the complaints or enquiries raised by NSW Fair Trading, Bell Solar told NCAT that the number represented a small proportion of its installations and “the number of complaints is not unreasonable and represents less than 1% of its customers.”
A spokesperson for Sunboost told RenewEconomy they were confident issues relating to the licence renewal would be resolved.
“Bell Solar has always offered outstanding services and products in NSW and we are confident that the matter with NSW Fair Trading will be resolved amicabl,” the spokesperson said. “It’s important to note that NSW Fair Trading’s current position in relation to Bell Solar’s licence renewal has been stayed by the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal on two separate occasions.”
“It wouldn’t be in the interests of NSW customers for our license renewal not to proceed. We are very keen to stay engaged in the NSW market because this would allow us to continue to provide ongoing maintenance services to our existing customers. Our valued employees and subcontractors will also suffer is Fair Trading fails to renew our license.”
The Fair Trading Commissioner opposed the stay being issued, telling NCAT that Bell Solar’s conduct had been unsatisfactory and that the company’s existing customers would still be able to have systems installed with the engagement of appropriately licenced sub-contractors.
However, NCAT subsequently agreed to issue the stay, meaning Bell Solar will be able to continue its business and install new solar systems until a review of the licence refusal is completed.
NCAT is scheduled to hear the matter again in late June.
In separate issues relating to the company’s conduct, Bell Solar was required in April to agree to an “enforceable undertaking” with the Clean Energy Regulator in relation to renewable energy certificates created for almost 150 solar installations.
The Clean Energy Regulator alleged that Bell Solar had “unknowingly received false information from a third party relating to the purported designer and installer of 142 solar photovoltaic (PV) system installations.”
Under the enforceable undertaking, Bell Solar was required to arrange for a Clean Energy Council accredited installer to inspect and rectify any issues identified with those installations.