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It's not all sunshine and rainbows - the challenges of solar panel systems within manufactured home parks

By Anthony Pitt / 13 March 2017

It is common for park owners to own the electrical infrastructure within a park and configure that electrical infrastructure to enable it to sell electricity to residents. The electricity network within the park is known as an “embedded network.”

The connection of solar panel systems within a manufactured home park creates a unique set of challenges for a park owner. The park owner has to balance the residents’ desire to connect solar panel systems and the potential liability that may arise for the park owner as the owner of the embedded network.

To assist park owners assess their liability we have set out below some key questions to consider prior to allowing residents to connect solar panel systems within an embedded network.

  • Has the connection of ‘generating plant’ been approved by the supplier? 
  • Does the bulk electricity supply agreement contemplate the connection of solar panel systems within the embedded network?
  • What does the site agreement say about solar panel systems? 
  • How can a park owner lower its risk while allowing residents to connect solar panel systems?

Has the connection of ‘generating plant’ been approved by the supplier?

It is an offence under section 28 of the Electricity Regulation 2006 (Qld) to connect a generating plant (e.g. a solar panel system) to a supplier’s network without its agreement. This allows the supplier to manage the impact of the electricity exported from solar panel systems (and other generating plant) into its network.

In the case of an embedded network, the supplier (i.e. Ergon or Energex) delivers electricity to the park owner at one or more connection points. It has no visibility past that connection point to the customers of the park owner (i.e. the residents). From the supplier’s perspective it is the park owner who is responsible for any generating plant connected to the supplier’s network via the embedded network .This means that the park owner, not the resident, must enter into a connection agreement with the supplier.

The connection agreement will:

  • specify a maximum generation and export capacity;
  • give the supplier the ability to disconnect the generating plant where the specified limits are exceeded; and
  • require park owners to ensure the solar panel system complies with certain technical and operational conditions.

The limits imposed in the connection agreement mean that at some point the supplier will reject further applications to connect solar panel systems. This will create inconsistency in the park i.e. residents who request to install solar panel systems in the future may not be permitted to do so because of the generation and export capacity caps imposed by the supplier in the connection agreement.

Does the bulk electricity supply agreement contemplate the connection of solar panel systems within the embedded network?

It is common for an electricity supply agreement to require the purchaser of electricity (i.e. the park owner) to purchase all electricity used at the premises from the relevant electricity retailer. There may also be provisions that require the purchaser to buy a minimum amount of electricity or prohibit a material change in consumption.  The installation of solar panel systems within an embedded network may breach the terms of the electricity supply agreement and expose the park owner to liability.

What does the site agreement say about solar panel systems?

Consideration should be given to providing for solar panel systems in your site agreements. Clause 5.2.4 of Part 2 of the Form 2 site agreement provides that “the home owner/s must not make any alterations to the home that are visible from the outside or any additions to the home unless the park owner gives written consent”. If relevant, park owners should also consider including a special term in their site agreements that specifically deals with solar panel systems.

How can a park owner lower its risk while allowing residents to connect solar panel systems?

If the park owner would like to allow residents to connect solar panel systems we recommend that the park owner comply with the following steps.

  • Obtain advice on the park owner’s electricity supply agreement to ensure that the connection of solar panel systems does not result in a breach of that agreement.
  • Request that the resident provide details of the solar panel system they wish to install.
  • Obtain technical advice as to the impacts of the solar panel system on the embedded network. Relevantly, any over-penetration of solar within the embedded network may give rise to possible issues such as over-voltage and over-current.
  • Require the resident to enter into an agreement under which the resident:
    • indemnifies the park owner for any cost, expense or liability that arises as a result of the connection of the solar panel system to the embedded network (including under the connection agreement);
    • agrees to provide the park owner with any information about the solar panel system as reasonably required by the park owner; and
    • acknowledges that the solar panel system may be disconnected under the connection agreement or as reasonably required by the park owner to ensure the integrity of the embedded network.
  • Enter into a connection agreement with the supplier to connect the solar panel system to the supply network.

Specific advice required

We recommend that park owners exercise caution before allowing the connection of solar panel systems within their embedded network and seek specific advice on the matters set out above. To gain further advice or information, please contact our Manufactured Homes team.

Authors
Anthony Pitt
Special Counsel
Anthony is a Special Counsel in our Dispute Resolution practice who specialises in property-related litigation for his client base of property owners and developers, landlords, manufactured home park owners and bodies corporate.
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