Monday, 7 November 2011

Solar panels losing shine

Adelaide Advertiser
28 Oct 2011, Page: 3

THE number of approvals for solar panel units has plummeted since the tariff incentive of 44¢ a kW closed last month, leading to industry fears of hundreds of job losses. ETSA Utilities spokesman Paul Roberts yesterday said there had been 342 approvals since the reduced price began this month, compared with 24,600 in September. This year, monthly average approvals were about 7000. Under the now closed scheme, ETSA pays householders with solar panels 44¢ per kW/h to feed power into the state's electricity grid. This has now reduced to 16¢ per kW/h.

Love Energy managing director Richard Mintz said the substantial drop-off in installations did not surprise him. "It's very, very quiet at the moment, but we were expecting that", he said. "Anyone thinking about solar would have made the decision in September". According to the Clean Energy Council, there are an estimated 1500 people working in the SA solar industry. Mr Mintz said companies were still working to install solar panels ordered under the previous price scheme, but he expected new orders to remain quiet until the new year.

He said this would likely lead to job cuts of up to 50% among companies that predominantly relied on the South Australian market. "You're going to see a lot of job cuts in the industry over the next three months", he said. Cleaner Energy SA chief executive Lee Lake said the company had noticed a 75 to 80% reduction in business in October and had cut jobs. "We had to do a little restructuring and cut a few jobs", Mr Lake said. "Our plan at this stage is to keep our advertising going, keep our name out there and make sure our customers have a positive experience".

But solar power companies yesterday expressed overall confidence in their long-term future because of residential electricity price rises and the implications of a carbon tax. "The long-term stability of our business is good", Combined Solar director Dion Miller said. "There'll always be a downturn straight after the rebate reduction but it's a matter of riding out the wave". Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure energy division executive director Vince Duffy said the State Government had anticipated a drop off in applications, but was confident of the industry's future.