THE NSW Government could save more than $1 billion from the State’s Solar Bonus Scheme without slashing the amount it pays households for solar power, an industry group has said.
Solar power companies peak bodies, the Australian Solar Energy Society and the Solar Energy Industries Association, yesterday announced an independent report by accounting firm Ernst & Young had confirmed industry claims “more than $1.013 billion in savings could be found ... without retrospectively voiding contracts with householders, or impacting the future of solar power generation in the State”.
The comment follows intense turmoil in the State’s solar energy sector after the NSW Government announced it would cut the amount it paid householders signed up to the Solar Bonus Scheme from 60 cents per kilowatt hour to 40 cents.
The decision was slammed at the time by Lennox Head-based Liberal MP Catherine Cusack – who was the Coalition’s environment spokeswoman before the March election – who said in a letter to Premier Barry O’Farrell many who signed up to the scheme had borrowed money based on the amount the government had set for power fed back into the grid.
The solar industry has warned the move threatens its viability and the jobs of more than 8000 people working in the sector.
More broadly, the move has triggered a backlash from people signed up to the scheme, prompting the government to offer an assistance package to anyone suffering financial hardship because of the reduced tariff.
Solar Energy Industries Association spokesman Ged McCarthy conceded the Ernst & Young figure was not precise because the government had not released the figures it was using to justify the cuts.
“We have repeatedly asked the government for the missing solar figures that will show the exact dollar figure savings, but have had to resort to a Freedom of Information request, which we have now officially lodged,” Mr McCarthy said.
“We are trying to work with the government to save the existing solar household contracts and to ensure a strong future for solar in NSW and the 8000-plus jobs on the line.”
Co-director of Nimbin-based Rainbow Power Company John Davis welcomed the report, but added the figures had been put to the State Government previously without it reacting to them.
Mr Davis said the government appeared to be holding to its assumption that the only people interested in solar power were hippies and inner-city yuppies, when the reverse was true.
“Of the people who really picked this up (the Solar Bonus Scheme) more than 70% are in rural areas,” Mr Davis said.
“What the government appears to be wanting to do is to let it die down and hope the general public has a two-week memory for this sort of thing.
"They don’t think it’s important to us.
“I don’t think this is an issue they can just sweep aside.”
Mr Davis said the tariff cut would not kill the solar industry, but could set it back several years – to the days when solar panels were viewed as toys for hobbyists rather than as a legitimate alternative power source.