Thursday, 12 September 2013

Solar power in Bendigo is put on hold
26 Aug 2013

BENDIGO solar power providers say the industry is in a state of limbo, with a dip in business confidence linked to unclear party policies. Solar company Sunergy said about $500,000 worth of projects had been put on hold in the lead-up to the election. Managing director Tony Smith said the downturn was influenced by the Coalition's stated plans to cut funding for the Clean Technology Program.

He said commercial customers had been waiting for an election outcome to decide whether to go ahead with solar installations. "There has been a noticeable slow down", he said. "A lot of people are holding off. Others have basically said they will cancel those commitments if there's no funding from the Clean Technology Program".

Mr Smith said two major solar projects at wineries in Bendigo and Mildura were in doubt. He said many local providers were experiencing instability and that would be further impacted by changes to federal funding. Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said uncertainty stemmed from the Labor government's changes to incentives and rebate programs.

Mr Hunt told the Bendigo Advertiser the Coalition was looking at making Bendigo a "solar town". "There's been a lack of confidence in the industry because of the complete chopping and changing by the government", he said. "We see a very significant opportunity to grow investment in Bendigo. Solar has an extremely strong future under the Coalition".

Bendigo Sustainability Group president Keith Reynard said about 100 people were employed through the solar industry in Bendigo. He said it was important for those businesses that parties were clear on their plans for solar. Complete Solar Solutions owner Phil Smith said his Lockwood-based business had seen a lot of hesitation from customers on the eve of the election. "Everyone is sort of hanging back wondering what way it's going to go", he said. "Every time there's an election coming up, everyone gets a bit jittery".

Mr Smith has worked in the solar industry for close to 20 years and said the key to business was having a stable trading environment. "VICOSC would prefer to have no rebate programs at all", he said. Sunergy's Tony Smith agreed that less government intervention was preferable.

Mr Smith, who has nominated as a senate candidate for political party Senator Online, said he was fed up with changes to funding and incentives. "We've had in excess of six changes imposed on the sector by government and other regulatory bodies in the past 12 months", he said. "VICOSC would just like them to stop changing stuff".

Labor candidate for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said she feared the Coalition policies would "dismantle the local solar industry". "Cutting the Clean Technology Program will have a disastrous effect on the solar industry here in central Victoria and it will result in people losing their jobs and businesses going bust", she said. Ms Chesters said moving towards an emissions trading scheme would help create stability for solar providers.