NSW Auditor General Solar Bonus Scheme Report Reactions

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The NSW Auditor General’s Report into the state’s Solar Bonus Scheme says the Government and its agencies “grossly underestimated” the cost and popularity of the initiative.

“The Scheme lacked the most elementary operational controls, had no overall plan and risks were poorly managed,” said Auditor General  Peter Achterstraat.

Mr. Achterstaat says while there was a statutory requirement of 50 megawatts of installed solar panels being reached acting as a trigger for a Government review of the Scheme, by the time the review was completed the installed capacity had reached 101 megawatts.

While some in the industry have agreed with the Auditor General’s findings, others maintain the original rate was initially needed as the cost of solar power systems may not have decreased so rapidly without it. However, the rate was allowed to continue for too long and should have been incrementally wound back for new applications until the incentive was comparable to market rate electricity prices.

Responding to the report, New South Wales Opposition leader John Robertson has pointed out the 130,000 households participating in the scheme have contributed to delaying the need for new baseload coal-fired power plants by several years. Mr. Robertson pegged the cost of a 300-megawatt coal-fired power station at around the $1 billion mark.

John Grimes, Chief Executive of the Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES), says the solar industry is eager to provide expert policy advice to the New South Wales government with view to establishing a sustainable, affordable scheme that takes full advantage of NSW’s solar potential.

Mr. Grimes says power companies in NSW do not have to pay for solar electricity exported into the mains grid and believes the Government could pass these costs on to the utility companies and exert downwards pressure on electricity prices.

“More than ever, solar makes sense,” Grimes said. “Governments should be providing a fair price for solar to allow Australians to make their own contribution to the clean energy future.”

Even without the Solar Bonus Scheme, home solar power in NSW continues to be a very attractive way for households to buffer against rapidly increasing electricity prices as Solar Credits rebates are still available along with net metering. Unfortunately, some home owners have been turned off by the misinformation disseminated during recent months and then parroted by some corners of the mainstream media.

According to national solar solutions provider Energy Matters, even an entry-level 1.5kW solar power system installed in New South Wales can generate electricity bill savings of around $500 a year under current incentive arrangements.

Power bills in New South Wales rose by 17 per cent in July and further increases of between 2 and 10 per cent are expected within the next 12 months -without factoring in the impact of the upcoming carbon tax.

The bungling of the Solar Bonus Scheme and surrounding misinformation campaign has thrown the NSW solar power industry into crisis, with thousands of green jobs expected to be lost by year’s end.