A Fair Go for Solar in Tasmania

Tasmania’s current energy crisis is the result of three factors, the running down of dam levels over several years, the unprecedented low Spring rains in 2015, and the failure of the Basslink cable on 20 December 2015.

On 18 January this year The Mercury reported that Energy Minister Matthew Groom had “vowed that the Government will consider all options to reduce the chances of an energy crisis in the future” and was “considering greater incentives for Tasmanians to adopt solar-power technology”

To date the government has taken no action to encourage solar, and has done nothing to address the existing problems facing the solar industry:

  • Feed-in tariff was dropped from 28c to 8c and now 6c. This has halved the installation rate.
  • Solar owners who ordered after 30 August 2013 with a heating tariff don’t get the full value of the solar they generate, in fact at times these owners are feeding electricity into the grid but are paying an energy charge as if they were receiving electricity from the grid.
  • TasNetworks is moving tariffs to higher fixed charges which reduce the incentive to use less energy or install solar.
  • In some areas solar owners have their systems disconnected because of high network voltages.

Solar PV, on both homes, commercial and public facilities can contribute to meeting Tasmania’s energy shortfall. Solar has many advantages over relying on gas, diesel and Victorian imports.

  • Solar owners invest their own money to save energy and export to the grid, reducing the need for new capital expenditure on gas fired generators.
  • The current feed-in tariff is way below what Hydro is paying to generate gas fired energy. The FiT is 6c/kWh but the wholesale spot market price in Tasmania has been over 18c/kWh for at least the last three weeks[1], even before diesel generation is added to the mix.
  • The feed-in tariff is paid only for energy fed into the grid, but the energy consumed within the premises also reduces the demand on the grid and hence reduces the need for expensive additional generation.
  • Locally generated electricity does not use the transmission network and makes less demands on the distribution network – these network charges make up half the retail cost of electricity.
  • Returning the solar industry to the level it was before the feed-in tariff dropped would create around 200 jobs. These are highly skilled jobs and would be located throughout the state.

If the government is serious about addressing our long term energy security it should:

  • Instruct the Economic Regulator that the FiT should reflect the wider benefit of distributed solar for Tasmania, not just the costs avoided by retailers.
  • Set a minimum FiT rate that applies for at least 3 years. Annual changes to the FiT create uncertainty and do not allow people to make calculations to support a long term investment in solar.
  • Instruct TasNetworks to implement the metering solution that will allow solar owners to offset their solar generation against consumption on both tariff 31 (light & power) and tariff 41/42 (heating and hot water). Solar owners should not have to pay for a meter replacement to get their metering fixed.
  • Instruct TasNetworks that distribution network voltages should be kept closer to the nominal 230 V so that distributed generation can be connected without causing safety concerns.

What you can do

[1] NEM-watch 30 min pool price for Tas for 21 days to 7 Mar 2016