More than 200 solar installation companies have written to the administrators of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), objecting to their proposals to introduce more training requirements, paperwork and oral assessments for installers.
The installers - who are mainly small businesses with only a few employees - are worried that the added costs of training and the burden of further paperwork will cripple their businesses.
They claim that the MCS, which is a requirement of installers for consumers to qualify for the Feed-in Tariff scheme, should instead ensure quality by making regular inspections of the workmanship of renewable energy installations.
Gemserv, who administrate the MCS scheme, are currently undertaking a consultation on the Competence Criteria necessary for installers to be accredited under the scheme. They propose that every solar PV installation company should have accredited people fulfilling between seven and ten different designated roles.
For each role, the company will have to demonstrate 'competence' either by showing that the person has attended training courses, or by going through a paperwork exercise demonstrating a number of years experience of the role, submitting a portfolio of evidence, and undergoing an oral assessment.
According to the MCS proposals, a 'Category one' installer will have to show that they have more than four years experience in the area of work they are seeking recognition in. They will also be required to have supporting auditable evidence such as relevant entries on a CV, appropriate witness testimony, relevant qualifications, and certificates of attendance at training courses.
However, solar installation companies believe that the proposed system is unnecessary, unworkable, and overly bureaucratic. They insist that existing regular inspections of MCS installations should focus primarily on the quality of the workmanship rather than on paperwork, and that the introduction of further layers of bureaucracy will make it much harder for smaller companies - which often only have one or two full-time employees - to survive.
"Gemserv's own research showed that holding sheaves of certificates from training courses, or having many years experience, were not good indicators of competence," said Andy Rankin, of Cambridge-based solar wholesaler Midsummer Energy.
"Sadly, there are companies in the industry who don't do a good job, and it is in everyone's interests that they are stopped from trading. But putting someone through a training course won't stop them cutting corners, or ripping a customer off. The system that Gemserv have come up with is incredibly complex, costly, and bureaucratic.
“And it just won't achieve it's stated purpose. Instead, it will create enormous barriers to entry to the MCS scheme for new installers, and many existing companies have told us they will also struggle to meet the new requirements.”
Midsummer Energy set up an online form for installers to respond to the consultation.
"We couldn't believe the response," added Andy. "The deadline for responses to the consultation was Monday evening, and we only got the webpage live on Friday afternoon. But despite it being one of the busiest weeks of the year for solar companies as the next cut in the feed-in tariff is taking place at the end of the week, well over 200 companies used our form to email Gemserv before the deadline.
“We haven't found a single company that supports Gemserv's proposals."
The response of Jeremy Fisk, of Derbyshire-based solar installer C-Changes, was typical of small installation companies.
"Although we are quite a small company, we pride ourselves on the quality and thoroughness of our work and the majority of the orders we receive are from customers that have been recommended to us by their friends, neighbours and colleagues," he said.
"We wholeheartedly disagree with the approach that is proposed for proving competency. It is highly bureaucratic, complicated to manage and the timescales involved in its implementation will create an almost impossible challenge for a small company like ours.
"The proposals in the consultation will involve significant additional investment to send employees and sub-contractors on pointless additional training courses which will not actually improve their current knowledge or competency levels.
“The training will simply enable us to 'tick a box' to demonstrate what we already know – i.e. that the current knowledge of individuals involved in our installations is of the highest standard and we are all working to deliver high quality installations every time.
"I also cannot understand why I, who has lived and breathed solar PV for the past two years, should not be able to gain accreditation through the experienced worker route (it states that I need 4 years) and yet, by attending a course for a few days, a new entrant is suddenly seen as more able than I am.”
Midsummer Energy, C-Changes and the other solar installation companies who responded are now hoping that Gemserv will take note of the strength of feeling against the changes, and drop their proposals.
"If Gemserv tries to bring in these proposals now, it will be clear to everyone that they are going straight against the wishes of the industry" said Andy. "If they persist, then we will look to see if there are any other ways to challenge the introduction of the changes. But we're hoping that further action won't be needed."