Concerns over government incentives cloud solar energy’s future

SOLAR industry installers say the industry’s future is under a cloud of uncertainty over whether federal government incentives will continue for renewable energy.

Senate haggling over carbon tax and budget cost-saving measures has added to the dilemma for south-west householders and business operators on whether to invest in sun power.

However, there has been a positive spin-off for installers with a surge in orders from customers stung by recent power bill rises and worried that installation rebates of up to $2800 could be abolished.

There have been some concerns about the quality of work and components by non-local companies selling systems via intensive advertising, including cold-call doorknocking.

The base solar feed-in tariff has dropped to eight cents per kilowatt hour from a peak of 66c/kWh a few years earlier, while the consumer price charged by power distribution companies varies from 15 cents to 33c/kWh plus a supply charge.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said 2700 Victorian homes and businesses installed solar panels during May, but Powercor was putting up barriers to new connections and retailer Simply Energy (Hazelwood power station owner) wanted to charge extra for solar inputs.

Warrnambool and district electricians Stephen Coveny(correct), Gary Askey and Wayne Davies consider government policies seem to favour power companies over consumers.

They said world trends showed solar energy had a bright future as an affordable and non-polluting resource, but Australia was lagging behind.

"There's uncertainty over the Renewable Energy Target scheme (RET) and the feed-in tariff is a debacle," Mr Coveny said.

"And there are so many retailers pedalling different bikes.

"The solar industry growth worldwide is unstoppable, but it is being hamstrung in Australia and job opportunities are being lost.".

Mr Askew said the government must put confidence back in the renewable energy market.

"Pricing of solar units is much more affordable than what it used to be, but there is a lot of uncertainty out there," he said.

"I noticed renewed interest from clients about six weeks ago after the new cycle of power bills arrived.

"A solar system will not produce all your power requirements, but it takes the sting out of bills.

"It should be be looked at as a long-term payback of about five to seven years."

Mr Davies said it was frustrating because the government seemed to be protecting power companies.

"We also find it very frustrating that power companies do what they want, when they want and will charge whatever they want," he said.

"If anyone found out the retail cost of electricity compared to the customer price there would be a massive uproar.

"Uncertainty is driving recent demand from consumers who don't want to miss out on the rebate."

Mr Davies was involved in a major bulk-buy installation scheme through Warrnambool City Council three years ago where about 150 systems were installed by householders who locked in a 66 cent per kWh feed-in tariff until 2024.

pcollins@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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