Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Schools lose solar cash for malting too much power

Sydney Morning Herald
Monday 7/6/2010 Page: 5

MORE than half of NSW public schools are being excluded from the government's solar power rebate because they generate too much renewable energy. Schools that have funded the installation of solar panels through cake stalls and community donations are, in many cases, earning about 10% what private households can earn through the scheme. Of the 262 schools that produce solar energy in the state, 165 are not eligible for the solar bonus, mostly because their systems are bigger than the 10-kW maximum size allowed under the rebate scheme.

Pittwater High School, which generates the most solar energy of any public school in the state from 22 kWs of photovoltaic panels on its roofs, said the scheme took away the incentive to keep aiming for its goal of becoming carbon neutral. "I don't know why schools should be disadvantaged for putting on as many panels as possible; they should have the same incentives as any resident," the school's solar project co-ordinator, Bill Holland, said. "It feels like we are being penalised for trying to do the right thing."

Under the scheme, which began in January and will run for seven years, the school gets just 7¢ a kW hour for electricity it feeds back into the grid. It pays more than double that for energy it takes from the grid. NSW introduced the feed-in tariff system late last year for households that generate renewable power, and the payment rate of 60¢ a kW hour of energy is among the most generous in the country. But it excludes schools such as Pittwater that have kept installing panels. The school now generates about 30% of its power from sunshine.

"Pittwater High School has made an enormous investment in its solar future, only to be punished for being too large and producing too much solar energy," said the Liberal MP for Pittwater, Rob Stokes. Industry and Investment NSW, the government agency that administers the solar bonus scheme, said it supported schools taking part if they were eligible, but the 10-kW cutoff would remain.

"In designing the scheme, careful consideration was given in balancing the cost impacts of the scheme on consumers against the objective of encouraging uptake," a spokesman for the agency said. "Hence the final scheme design focuses on small customers and having a 10-kW capacity limit for generators." The opposition is calling on the government to modify the scheme so all schools are eligible for the full rebate.