Liberal MP Breaks Rank On NSW Solar Bonus Scheme

            
NSW Premier O’Farrell is under heavy fire for his government’s handling of the state’s Solar Bonus Scheme from not only the solar industry, solar supporters and other political parties, but from elements within his own party.
             
National solar solutions provider Energy Matters has obtained a copy of a letter from Liberal MP Catherine Cusack to Premier O’Farrell in which she says, “There is a major issue of integrity at stake”.
      
The statement was in reference to the NSW Government’s decision to renege on its commitment to honour some existing Solar Bonus Scheme contracts; cutting the rate paid to those who signed up for the initiative under the 60c per kilowatt hour feed in tariff arrangement to 40c.
        
While Ms. Cusack called for an end to the Solar Bonus Scheme in October last year, she strongly objects to the way the end has occurred.
            
Ms. Cusack states in the very detailed letter, “The politics of the decision are unacceptably high risk for the Government” and “I personally find myself in an unconscionable situation. I have given people my word that an O’Farrell Government would honour their contracts, based on Shadow Cabinet and Party Room policy. In good faith I believed the Scheme could undergo major reform and savings without the need for retrospectivity.”
          
Ms. Cusack also outlines alternative approaches that could be taken to achieve the necessary savings wanted by the Government, including:
          
– Respecting the 300MW cap
         
– Recovering the financial windfall to retailers from the selling of solar power
         
– Removing “old solar” from the scheme
         
– Pursuing fraudulent claims
           
Ms. Cusack says Cabinet may have been misinformed about the impact of retrospective legislation and points out a Coalition philosophy: “retrospective legislation to alter contracts is unprecedented and repugnant.”
         
A recent “Solar Summit” was also criticised by Ms. Cusack, who said while the briefing notes claim all stakeholders reached a consensus, it seems the people who were denied a voice are the same people the Government says should bear all the costs of the decision.
         
Responding to the scapegoating of participants in the program who have been labeled as “greenies” and wealthy people rorting other electricity customers, Ms. Cusack says her experience has been there have been no “typical” or “average” applicants – households going solar come from a varied socio-economic background and have differing motivations for doing so.
       
The letter, which can be viewed in full here (PDF), is dated Tuesday, 17 May, 2011. 
      
Up until Thursday afternoon, Premier O’Farrell was reportedly still digging his heels in and refusing to reverse the decision.
    
However, the Premier and his Energy Minister may not be successful in their quest. On Thursday, the Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES) reported cross benchers in the NSW upper house will block the O’Farrell government’s proposed retrospective legislation.
     
According to AuSES Chief Executive John Grimes, the Premier needs to reverse his decision as it appears to be based on incorrect data from the last Government. AuSES have also demanded that a 1:1 feed in tariff be introduced going forward to ensure solar power system owners are rewarded for their greenhouse gas reduction efforts and contribution to electricity generation.
  
AuSES, organiser of a major solar rally held on Wednesday and other action in relation to the demise of the Solar Bonus Scheme, is requesting donations to help continue its battle.