17 September 2023

Amendment laws suggested to regulate electrician licensing for medical gas, renewable energy systems

| Claire Fenwicke
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man installing solar panels on roof

Electricians could soon be required to have additional qualifications to install renewable energy systems in the ACT. Photo: File.

Canberra’s electricians may soon have to meet extra training and licensing requirements under suggested amendments to Territory laws.

Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction Rebecca Vassarotti introduced to the Legislative Assembly the Building and Construction Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, which aims to improve the effectiveness of the ACT’s building regulatory system.

She said this was done to ensure the law was ready to respond to “new and emerging issues” in the industry.

“I am pleased to bring forward these important reforms, particularly for the regulation of medical gas systems, to protect our community in our health facilities,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“These reforms will make sure medical gas systems are installed correctly to avoid serious incidents and bring the ACT in line with other jurisdictions.”

In recent years there have been tragedies in other jurisdictions, where incorrectly installed medical gas systems led to the death of one baby and a serious injury to another in a Sydney hospital.

This new regulation introduces licensing requirements in relation to distributed energy resources installations, aiming to ensure medical gas systems are safely installed, tested and maintained.

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Other amendments introduced in this bill include regulatory powers relating to electrical installations that are a source of danger or “becoming dangerous”, and requirements when reconnecting electrical installations that have sat idle for six months or longer.

Preparing the building and construction industry for a larger uptake of renewable energy systems has also been taken into consideration.

“The bill also contains amendments which will allow for better regulation of electrical work on renewable energy systems and make sure that people working on installations, such as rooftop solar, have the appropriate skills and training,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“As Canberra continues to electrify, we will begin to see a rise in the demand on plumbers and electricians. This bill ensures the Government takes the right steps to respond to this demand.

“These amendments will provide clarity around building and construction processes and increase safety through stronger oversight and regulation of building, electrical, gasfitting and plumbing work.”

Currently, electricians installing a distributed energy resource (DER) for renewable systems don’t need to have extra qualifications and experience.

However, to be eligible for Australian or ACT Government solar rebates and support schemes, a DER must be installed by a licensed electrician who is also a Clean Energy Council (CEC)-accredited installer.

“With the gradual phase-out of these rebate schemes, there is a concern that there will be an increase in the number of inexperienced workers undertaking DER installations,” the bill’s explanatory statement outlined.

Finally, security of payments requirements for contractors have been included in the proposed amended legislation to bring the ACT in line with NSW and ensure contractors are being fairly and promptly paid.

“We want to see contractors paid promptly and not be left with unpaid debt,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“This is particularly important at a time where we have seen some builder and developer businesses experiencing financial difficulties.”

Specifically, the proposed changes to the security of payment system will remove the ”reference date” requirements and change the timeframe from 10 to 15 business days to align it with NSW.

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The amendments have been welcomed by the industry.

Master Builders Association ACT CEO Michael Hopkins commended the ACT Government for focusing on these smaller technical issues in the regulation, while also working on larger-scale changes to building and construction in Canberra – such as the release of the interim Territory plan.

“These are a range of small but important amendments to the ACT’s building system to address the new, contemporary issues the industry is facing, particularly around electrical safety,” Mr Hopkins said.

“It’s important to be prepared as we transition from gas to a more electrified city.

“The bill will require licensed electricians to obtain a new class of electrician licence or an endorsement of their current licence and either hold a CEC accreditation or complete relevant training. As most ACT electricians who install RES are CEC accredited, there will be provisions to grandfather them into the new licence endorsement system at no cost.”

The changes to ensure more timely payment of contractors were also welcomed.

“These changes will improve the ACT’s security of payment system so that contractors can get paid without being caught up on a legal technicality,” Mr Hopkins said.

He recommended the ACT Government consider a six-month transition period for the changes to be adopted, so that small businesses and the rest of the industry could be well informed and prepared for the new requirements.

More information about the progress of reforms to the ACT’s building regulatory system can be found on the Build, Buy or Renovate website.

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