It's an argument over a handful of rusty screws

IT'S an argument over a handful of rusty screws, but a Gladstone man wants to make sure he isn't the one being screwed by a national solar company.

Paul Adamson is considering legal action against Solar Farmers, Queensland's largest installer of solar power systems, and wants to know if others in the region have had the same dealings with the company.

The company has written to more than 1000 of its Gladstone customers asking them to pay to rectify an issue Mr Adamson believes is the result of a dodgy install.

The local sculptor's requests to have the rusted screws attaching his system to the roof replaced free of charge have been denied by the company who told him "they were not in a position to give away free upgrades".

Mr Adamson found only some of the screws used in his solar system were rusted after Solar Farmers sent out an email last month to more than 1000 Gladstone residents urging them to agree to a discounted, urgent "upgrade" charged at between $450-$600.

The bulk email suggested Gladstone's air quality was to blame for the problem, rather than the installation, and gave customers a deadline of October 12 to agree - leaving people just two weeks to decide.

Solar Farmers is not taking our calls so we don't know how many customers, if any, took up their offer.

After receiving the email mechanical engineer and Solar Farmers customer, Jeff Dyer pulled some of the screws from his roof.

He said the washer, which he felt was clearly stainless steel, appeared to be the obvious cause of the problem

So, we sent his roof screw to the University of Queensland's material performance lab for testing.

Those tests concluded the washer attached to the screw was made from type 304 stainless steel and was without a shadow of a doubt the cause of corrosion because of the interaction with the galvanised steel screw - known as electrolysis. They found there were no signs of corrosion caused by atmospheric conditions.

Solar Farmers has maintained the washers are all made from aluminium.

In an emailed reply to Mr Adamson, the company repeated that this was a Gladstone-specific issue and not related to materials.

"This issue simply does not happen in Brisbane," the email read. "Even with direct contact between roofing screws and aluminium, with no neo washer, in suburbs (Wynnum) adjacent to Moreton Bay, that are over five years old."

Solar Farmers said the reason some of the screws were corroded while others weren't could have been the installation - although they weren't accepting liability for that either.

"If there is any angle, then there is a chance of the edge of the screw head, or the side of the shaft coming into direct contact with the bulky aluminium racking foot, and then the accelerated corrosion happens," the email said.

When we last spoke to Solar Farmers manager Craig Balmanno, he said anyone who believed their screws had been installed with stainless steel washers was welcome to send one to the company to be examined.

"We believe our suppliers and manufacturers and if anyone has evidence to contrary then present it," Mr Balmanno said.

How are you going to deal with this problem? Keep us in the loop, call Helen Spelitis on 4970 3019.

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