CER investigating potential $1.5 million solar panel fraud
Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator has this week executed search warrants on several residential and commercial addresses connected to a Perth-based solar PV retail and installation business as part of an investigation into a potential $1.5 million solar panel fraud.
The Clean Energy Regulator (CER) confirmed on Friday that a Western Australian solar PV company is being investigated amid concerns it falsified information relating to almost 500 solar panel installations representing about $1.5 million in Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs).
The regulator said the group, which sells and installs solar systems and operates as a Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) agent, is under investigation for allegedly fabricating information about the responsible installer and designer of the almost 500 solar panel installations.
CER general manager of compliance Piet Powell said the search warrants aimed to uncover evidence of false information being provided to the regulator, resulting in the improper creation of STCs.
“The Clean Energy Regulator requires the very highest standards of compliance and integrity within its Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme for the financial incentives given,” she said. “Agents, installers, and retailers who fail to adequately ensure that STCs are eligible for creation or are party to the provision of false and misleading information, may face criminal, civil or administrative action.”
Powell said there no direct evidence that suggests the installations are either unsafe or sub-standard, but the CER is working with state regulators and homeowners will be contacted if evidence becomes available of concerns with installation quality.
The investigation caps an unhappy few days for the solar industry in WA with the state’s Consumer Protection watchdog earlier this week warning homeowners looking to install a rooftop system to beware after an increase in complaints about performance claims, shoddy systems and workmanship.
Consumer Protection said it has received 67 consumer complaints this year – up more than 10% on the same time last year – about issues such as poor-quality parts, companies not responding or providing false and misleading information, as well as installers failing to use due care and skill.
WA is home to a booming rooftop solar industry with more than 400,000 homes and businesses, or about 36% of customers in the state’s main grid, estimated to have rooftop solar. That figure is predicted to swell to 50% by 2030.
While the number of complaints received is very small compared the number of systems installed in WA this year, Consumer Protection acting executive director Penny Lipscombe said the issues are an important reminder for consumers to thoroughly research who they plan to do business with.
“Before agreeing to buy a solar system, there are a number of crucial checks that should be made, including sourcing independent reviews and making sure your preferred supplier is accredited by searching the Clean Energy Council’s website,” she said.
“If a supplier’s verbal claims are influencing your decision, make sure to have them included in the written contract and read through all the terms and conditions.
“Solar installers are not allowed to use forceful or high-pressured sales tactics to get you to buy something, nor can they provide you with false or misleading information. They must also ensure their products and services meet the consumer guarantees.”
The system’s electrical components must be installed by a licensed electrician working under a licensed electrical contractor.
“You should ask to see these licences and expect to receive an electrical safety certificate for the work,” Lipscombe said.