Two Australian solar power companies have been fined a total of A$145,000 (HK$991,503) for falsely claiming their China-made solar panels were manufactured in Australia.
Friday’s Federal Court judgement ordered P&N and P&N NSW (trading as Euro Solar) and Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing (formerly trading as Australian Solar Panel) to pay combined fines of A$125,000. Nikunjkumar Patel, sole director of both companies, received a personal fine of A$20,000 for his involvement in the matter.
According to the court ruling, Patel was fully aware that the panels were manufactured in China, but did nothing to prevent his companies from making representations that they were made in Australia.
Patel told the South China Morning Post that the claims were unintentional. “Our conduct arose from a lack of understanding of the relevant laws and the absence of an effective compliance system,” he said. The companies behaviour was “careless and reckless”, but not “deliberate or wilful,” he added.
The action was brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, who first raised concern in February last year over claims made in newspaper and television advertising, as well as on the companies’ websites and on YouTube.
“Credence claims such as country of origin can be a powerful marketing tool for businesses, with consumers often prepared to pay a premium for products made in Australia,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement on Friday.
The majority of solar panels in Australia are imported from overseas and are increasingly from China, according to Darren Gladman, policy manager at The Clean Energy Council, the leading body representing Australia’s clean energy industry.
“I think the quality of panels from China varies, there’s high quality and not so high quality … I think there’s probably a perception there, although it’s changing, that the Chinese panels are variable in quality. I think that’s why you sometimes get false and misleading marketing claims,” said Gladman.
The two companies were also charged with publishing testimonials made by people who were not genuine customers.
Both companies and their director, Patel, were restrained from trading solar panels for three years by the court.