Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Solar struggle feeds into power cost blame game

Canberra Times
6 May 2011, Page: 4

ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell has accused the Federal Government of using the clean energy industry as scapegoats for soaring power costs. Federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said feed in tariff schemes offered in the ACT and NSW had hiked up electricity prices and cuts to solar panel subsidies would reduce household power bills by $35 a year. Under changes announced yesterday by Mr Combet, federal subsidies for household solar panels will drop from a peak of around $6200 offered on June 30 to $1200 for a basic 1.5kw system after July 1, 2013.

But Mr Corbell said ageing infrastructure was driving up electricity prices, not an increase in households signed up to the ACT's feed in tariff scheme. "I'm getting sick of the feed in tariff being used as a scapegoat for rising electricity costs because it's an easy sell", he said. "Demand for electricity is going up in summer and winter and the transmission network needs to be augmented to deal with that. This is what is contributing to rising electricity prices, the impact of the feed in tariff scheme is only costing 50¢ a week on households".

Enviro Friendly Products founding director David Payne said the subsidy cuts would cause a 50% drop in solar panel sales at his Phillip store. "Companies across the country will suffer. There will be a significant drop in sales. But we need to get to a point where we don't need subsidies and [solar panels] stand on their own as an economic model". Mr Payne said the Federal Government was using the renewable energy industry as a "political football" and strong demand for solar panels had only a minor impact on rising power costs. "The price of power is increasing because of dilapidated infrastructure. Saying it's because of solar panel subsidies is simply not true".

He said clean energy businesses in the ACT were more sheltered from the subsidy cuts than other states because of existing solar panel feed in tariffs, which offer households 45.7¢ for every kW they put into the grid. ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems director Andrew Blakers said Australia was in the middle of a "solar revolution" and urged the Government to create a clear and transparent support scheme. He said clean energy businesses needed to work harder to reduce the cost of installing solar panels now that Federal Government subsidies had been cut.

Meanwhile, the ACT Government announced yesterday new renewable energy targets that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020. Mr Corbel' said 15% of energy used in Canberra would be sourced from renewable sources by next year, increasing to 25% by 2020. But the Greens said Mr Corbell's targets were meaningless, because no new policies had been created. Greens climate change spokesman Shane Rattenbury said the targets announced by Mr Corbell simply reflected what ACT residents were already doing.