Scapegoating solar not the solution to our network challenges

[A shorter version of this article was published in The Mercury on 20 August 2014]

It is extremely disappointing to see the new head of TasNetworks trotting out the usual anti-solar messages (The Mercury 14 August). Contrary to what is often presented in the mass media, solar PV is not predominantly owned by the wealthy and is not cross subsidised by the poor. In fact the lowest income LGA in Tasmania (Tasman) has more than twice as many solar installations per 100 dwellings as the richest (Hobart)[1].

A hypothetical Tasmanian grid-connected solar PV owner who bought no electricity from the network would still be paying $383 per year to be connected to the network based on the tariff 31 and 41 fixed charges[2] – hardly freeloading!

It is not even clear whether Mr Balcombe is proposing dropping the feed-in tariff (FiT) for customers on the 27c legacy tariff or whether he is proposing a further drop in the FiT for new customers, that has already reduced from 27c to 8c and most recently to 6c.

The legacy FiT is not available to new customers and was a commitment by the previous government in recognition of the fact that many Tasmanians invested in solar when solar panels prices were much higher and people made investments on the assumption that the 27c tariff would be available for at least 5 years.

The current 6c tariff set by the Economic Regulator is now the lowest of any state in Australia that sets a mandated state level FiT[3]. We have argued in detail[4] that this does not represent the full value of the benefits to all Tasmanians of the electricity fed into the grid by solar owners.  Distributed renewable energy diversifies our energy sources, frees up hydro power for export to the mainland at time of peak demand (and price) and can reduce the need for network infrastructure. The solar industry in Tasmania employs around 450 people and creates skilled jobs across the whole state.

Solar owners who are paid 6c for electricity that is sold to their neighbours for 27c are sick of being accused of being freeloaders. They are over 21,000 Tasmanian homeowners and businesses who have invested thousands of dollars of their own money to reduce their electricity bills, to achieve a greater sense of self-sufficiency and control of their future, and to contribute to the necessary transition to a sustainable future.

Solar PV remains an excellent investment for homes and businesses that can use most of the electricity they generate themselves. However by actively discouraging export of solar electricity with low feed-in tariffs, we are missing out on the full benefits to the Tasmanian economy of a growing solar industry.

Like network operators all around the developed world, Mr Balcombe does face some serious challenges as a result of reducing electricity demand and the rise of distributed generation. However blaming solar owners is a simplistic and divisive approach to these complex policy issues. Mr Balcombe suggests that because solar owners are buying less electricity they are increasing the impost on others. Would he use same argument to accuse people who insulate their houses or buy energy efficient lighting of disadvantaging other electricity consumers because they buy less of the product Mr Balcombe is distributing?

Solar PV and other distributed generation is part of the solution to a modern, efficient and affordable electricity system, not the problem. We encourage Mr Balcombe to show some real leadership and engage with industry and consumers on how we can meet these challenges together.

Jack Gilding, Executive Officer, Tasmanian Renewable Energy Alliance.

[1] Based on Aurora “Solar Installations Data.doc” May 2013 and ABS

6524.0.55.002 – Estimates of Personal Income for Small Areas, Time Series, 2009-10.

[2] Tariff 31, 87.677 ¢/day plus tariff 42, 16.981 ¢/day = $1.05/day = $383/year.

[4] Fair feed-in tariffs for Tasmania, 2 October 2013, A joint submission by Save Solar Tasmania and the Alternative Technology Association in response to the Tasmanian Economic Regulator Draft Report of September 2013,

Author: TREA

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