SA Power Networks’ proposal to not provide network charge reductions to solar owners equal to non-solar households has been met with a strong reaction.
In a media release on Tuesday, SA Power Networks stated if approved by the Australian Energy Regulator, eligible hardship customers in South Australia would receive an average reduction of around $386 on the network (poles and wires) component of their 2015/16 bill – quite a saving. A typical residential customer would receive a reduction of around $188.
Solar households have been treated rather shabbily however – a new “Residential Solar Tariff” will mean an average of just $88 reduction in network charges for customers with solar panels.
The difference in reduction is being perceived by some as the equivalent of slamming on a new charge.
SA Power Networks’ reasoning:
“Customers with solar panels have a different load profile (consumption pattern) to other residential customers,” said spokesman Paul Roberts.
“In simple terms, in relation to the energy they consume, they place a comparatively higher demand on the network.
The Clean Energy Council has objected strongly to the proposal.
“People should be encouraged to invest in technology that helps them to reduce their power bills, without being penalised by their power company,” said CEC Policy Manager Darren Gladman
“The message SA Power Networks is sending to consumers with this solar charge is: Don’t try to cut your bills, because we’ll find a way to charge you more in the end.”
SA Power Networks, the only electricity distribution game in town in South Australia, isn’t exactly struggling for bucks – well, it didn’t appear to be last year. The foreign-owned company was last year reportedly raking in after-tax profits of $420 a year from each customer.
While falling revenue is a concern for utilities given the solar rooftop revolution, Mr. Gladman says the approach taken by SA Power Networks is a lazy solution that unfairly penalises the wrong people.
“For example, analysis by the Productivity Commission shows that a customer using a 2 kilowatt air-conditioner is subsidised approximately $350 per year,” he said.
“Under the National Energy Rules, a customer with solar power should be treated no less favourably than a customer who has not installed the technology. Consequently, we believe the application by SA Power Networks to introduce this measure should be rejected by the Australian Energy Regulator.”
Grassroots group Solar Citizens is also vigorously opposed to the proposal.
“The fact is solar homes reduces pressure on the network – charging solar households for this is nothing more than a money grab,” said Solar Citizens National Director Claire O’Rourke.
“The AER need to protect current and future solar homeowners and put a stop to this attempt to unfairly tax solar homeowners.”
Solar Business Services’ Nigel Morris was more blunt about the situation, calling it an “absolute crock of s**t“.
Even if the proposal should be approved, which is by no means assured, solar power systems are still a great investment for South Australians. But with more than 179,000 solar households in SA – 25% of all homes in the state have solar panels – it would seem SA Power Networks is in for a bumpy ride ahead as it fends off criticism and attempts to justify the move.
The situation could also result in more households considering battery energy storage with view to dumping the mains grid – and consequently SA Power Networks – altogether.