Solar enthusiasts take to the streets of Lismore on Wednesday.
Solar enthusiasts take to the streets of Lismore on Wednesday.

Fired up about solar power

The sun was shining, but solar power enthusiasts were not happy.

About 300 people took to the streets of Lismore on Wednesday to protest changes to the state government’s solar bonus scheme. Changes include dropping the gross tariff amount for people who had signed up to receive 60 cents per kilowatt hour to 40 cents an hour, despite customers signing seven-year contracts. The government is citing cost blowouts as the reason to introduce retrospective legislation to alter the energy contracts.

The protest was organised by local solar power companies Nickel Energy and Rainbow Power Company, who say continuous changes in government policy in relation to solar make it incredibly difficult to run their businesses.

“We just want some stable policy and the industry will look after the rest,” Nickel Energy director Nick Lake told the assembled crowd.

Mr Lake said, not only were businesses being affected but also community groups and individuals who had made long-term investments in solar systems based on the 60 cent tariff.

He mentioned the North Coast Table Tennis Club, which had invested $47,000 in a 10-kilowatt system that they should have been able to pay off under the terms of the scheme. They are now likely to fall short by around $17,000.

“There are lots of other community groups and elderly customers who have retired and put their savings to good use (investing in solar power) and they’re all stuffed,” Mr Lake said.

Gordon Fraser-Quick, who organised the solar rollout to more than 200 homes around Lismore, also addressed the crowd and said the decision had caused “instability, uncertainty and frustration about energy in NSW”.

He said the sun would be providing free, clean energy for the next four-and-a-half billion years, and that was the kind of time frame that governments should base their decisions on.

Organisers praised Lismore MP Thomas George for his work, getting them access to ministerial advisors before and after the election.

The option of reneging on the tariff rates was never tabled, even at an energy forum with Energy Minister Chris Hartcher just two weeks ago.

Thomas George addressed the crowd and said he was “shocked” by the decision and would continue to lobby the Minister to find alternatives.

Simultaneous protests were held around the state and there is a possible class action being organised by the Solar Energy Industry Association.



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