Protesters call on Victorian Government to fix Solar Homes Program before it kills the industry

Solar Homes program needs immediate reform say industry bodies.Solar Victoria needs reform, industry says.

Victorian solar industry members have called on the state government to remove quota caps on its Solar Homes installation rebate program and expand the program by August 1.

An industry rally outside Parliament House this morning called for drastic changes to the Victorian Solar Homes Program. Solar installers say the program has been implemented so badly that it’s destroying the industry.

Stories of job losses and frustration dominated the rally. Attendees spoke of crippling monthly quotas, face recognition ID blunders and red tape nightmares contributing to job losses and business closures.

Solar installers say the poor implementation of the Solar Homes Program is killing the industry. Report & images: Andrew Shaw

John Grimes, chief executive of the Smart Energy Council, told protesters that solar installers should not pay the price for an incompetent government policy.

“A rebate scheme so badly designed that it’s costing you your jobs and sending companies broke,” he said.

Well-intentioned Solar Homes installation rebate destroying industry

Grimes said that in 2018 the solar industry in Victoria was booming, averaging 3,500 solar installations each month. He described it as a highly competent, prosperous and efficient industry.

Solar Homes installation rebate protest

Smart Energy Council chief executive John Grimes addresses the rally.

“Then the election,” he continued. “The government promises $1.2 billion for the solar industry, a program to install 650,000 solar homes. A gold medal for the policy idea – but an absolute wooden spoon for policy implementation.”

Grimes said problems began when the Solar Homes installation rebate program stopped without notice earlier this year.

“Overnight, the rebate is abolished. But you’re still running your company. The government says, ‘Don’t worry, on July 1 you’ll have another chance’. So you keep your employees on – your roofers, electricians, salespeople, storeroom people.

“But on July 1 the [new application system] is so complicated you have customers in tears because they can’t navigate the system. Or they’re throwing the solar thing out – I can’t be bothered, it’s too difficult.

“Then what happens? The monthly quota that opens on Monday closes on Wednesday. We’re now coming up to four months where several small companies across the state have not had any income. Because why would you buy solar if the government is going to give you $2,500 for it?”

Solar installations put on hold despite great demand

The issue, according to Grimes and other speakers, is that customers are waiting for the next monthly solar rebate deadline – putting solar installations on hold in the meantime.

Protesters want changes to the Victorian solar rebate program before August 1.

This “solar-coaster” of stop and start income is harming businesses. Grimes said he had spoken to three solar companies yesterday that had gone into liquidation.

Solar installation business owner Elias Ellis was emotional as he spoke of his business’s decline.

“[Before the rebate program] I was doing 30 installs a month,” he said. “I did 50 in February and March, 30 in April, 15 in May and four in June. Four! I have to pay my rent and pay ten grand in wages a week.

“I’ve been a Labor voter all my life, but I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I feel I’m in Stalinist Russia the way they’re running this scheme. The government created this problem and they have to fix it. If they don’t, let’s return the favour at the next election.”

Industry calls for change before August 1

One industry member suggested halving the rebate and expanding it to save the industry. Another solution: abolish it completely. Meanwhile, a business owner said the government was interfering in solar installers’ ability to trade freely because of the controlling influence of the rebate.

Finally, John Grimes called on attendees to contact their local MPs to protest against the current Solar Homes installation rebate policy. He said he hoped for a policy change before the next rebate quota opens on August 1.