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Rooftop solar changes unsettle industry, raising fears worse to come

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Commercial-Solar-PanelsFor the solar industry, this should be the best of times: a record year for rooftop installs and the long awaited boom in large-scale solar. But nervousness about the future has been betrayed by its reaction to regulatory changes to the small scale rooftop solar scheme, and rumours of more punitive changes to come.

Australia’s peak solar energy body has called for a written clarification from the federal government, after confusion surrounding proposed amendments to the Renewable Energy Target triggered concerns that the booming commercial solar market was being wound back.

The confusion began on Monday, when the Australian Solar Council released a statement to its members alleging a federal Coalition MP had told an ASC member company that the Turnbull government had decided to abolish STCs for “commercial solar projects,” sized between 10kW and 100kW.

As the ASC noted in its emailed statement, such a decision “would have profound implications for our members and their businesses,” not to mention for the huge number of big, medium and small  businesses trying to cut the costs of their energy supply by installing PV panels on their roofs.

(As data from industry analysts SunWiz illustrated last week, commercial solar is the rising star of Australia’s PV market, with installations between 10-100kW now making up 32 per cent of total installed capacity.)

But it now seems that the ASC’s source had their wires crossed, and no such change will be made. Rather, as the Clean Energy Regulator confirmed early this afternoon, it is working with the Department of the Environment and Energy on RET regulation amendments, on of which includes a proposed requirement that solar systems between 10-100kW can only participate in the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme.

Currently, systems of this size are able to participate in either the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme or the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target.

In short, says the CER, the proposed amendment – part of a broader set of RET amendments currently open for consultation and available on the department website – “does not impact on small-scale technology certificate eligibility for systems between 10kW and 100kW.”

The events highlight the state of confusion and anxiety in the solar industry, which despite enjoying its best year ever – in both rooftop and large scale installations – is besieged by rumours of changes to both the nature of the small-scale scheme, and even of the value of the clearing house certificates.

Much of these rumours might be put down to baiting by conservatives and the incumbent fossil fuel industry, but solar’s sangfroid has been challenged by the incomprehensible nature of the national policy debate, and the unveiling of modelling by the Energy Security Board, in support of its proposed National Energy Guarantee, that appears to assume, if not call for, a rapid slowdown in the deployment of solar.

The mood in the industry is not improved by recent experience from the current Coalition government, which engineered a three-year strike in large scale renewable energy investment – a policy goal that has helped contribute to the surge in electricity prices in the last few months.

During Tony Abbott’s time at the helm, the party also tried ceaselessly to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and, on failing to do so, resorted to cutting back their funding.

While many think the Coalition would be foolish to tamper with the small-scale scheme, given its importance to households and small and medium-sized business to reduce their bills, nothing can be ruled out.

And that is why ASC chief John Grimes remains unconvinced by the Regulator’s assurances.

Grimes told RenewEconomy he would be very happy to put the STC rumour to bed – considering the devastating impact it could have – but would only do so with written assurance from the Turnbull government that any changes to the STCs for the commercial solar market were “absolutely ruled out.”

“I’m worried because this rings true to me,” Grimes told RenewEconomy. “What we’ve seen with the announcement of the NEG is a renewed intent to push back renewable energy and to promote incumbent fossil fuels, and particularly coal.

“You can’t blame the industry for being nervous,” Grimes said. “This is not something that is fabricated (by the ASC). This is something a senior government back bencher said.

“Ultimately, (the federal government) need to put out a written statement, and then we will be happy to put this concern behind us.”

  

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  • Joe

    Written assurances from the Turnbull Government…keep dreaming people. The COALItion is at war with itself as well as with Renewable Energy. Normally I would say when getting a written assurance then get it from the man in charge. But here again is a problem. The man in charge is Turnbull and he won’t be PM anymore after Christmas!

    • mick

      i reckon it was a deliberate spoiler perhaps even a neg

    • Ken Dyer

      The sooner Australia has an election and gets rid of the Turnbull Government the better it will be. Australia desperately needs leadership on renewable energy and climate change, and the COALition is not providing.

      • Joe

        The GG should dissolve Parliament right now instead of us messing around with these By elections. The Federal Parliament is crawling with ‘Identity Fraudsters’. Clean ’em out, confirm the ‘non dual citizens’ and then onto a General Election. Then the business of Government can be resumed and yes climate change and energy policy will be top of the list.

        • Ken Dyer

          I hope so too, Joe. The article below from the Age resonated with me, particularly the fact that Australia has a very loud, hard right media that excels in delaying Australia’s progress in climate change and energy policy. It has brainwashed many Australians over many years.

          http://www.theage.com.au/comment/face-the-facts-australia–nz-is-lapping-us-20171112-gzjzpq.html

          • Joe

            Young Ken, thank you for The Age article. Yes, PM David Lange was The Man. He steered NZ a different course to what they had been used to. Subsequent Labor PM’s are walking in David’s footsteps. Helen Clark was marvellous to watch and now there is Jacinda. She gets it and more power to her. Can we get Jacinda over here in Australia?

          • Ken Dyer

            Thanks Joe, You must be really old…… ;~)

          • Joe

            …only 60 years ‘young’…still going strong !

          • Ken Dyer

            You’re only a whippersnapper, mate. I made 70 this year.

          • Joe

            Congrats !

          • GlennM

            I would love to send her over….a win for both of us

    • Hettie

      I would agree with you, young Joe, BUT the liberal leadership is now a poisoned chalice.
      It is holy writ for the Libs that the PM who goes into a general election and loses, resigns. Not just from the leadership, but from Parliament.
      The government is crumbling because the Coalition parties failed to ensure their candidates complied with s44. Not so Labor.
      Now that all MPs and Senators must produce documentation of parents’ and grandparents’ places of birth by December 5, and evidence that any citizenship other than Australian has been confirmed as renounced before July 2 2016, there will be several more resignations, and probably another job lot referred for High Court determination.
      It seems inevitable that there will then be a vote of no confidence, and that the government will fall. Before Easter.
      None of the possible replacements for Turnbull will accept the leadership under those circumstances, knowing they would be facing the end of their parliamentary career in a couple of months.
      No. No spill. They will let Truffles self destruct.

      • Joe

        Young Hettie, to be honest who can identify a real Leader amongst the current Liberal rabble. None of them has a vision for the future they are all too concerned with their own survival, bugger the country. The Abbott was never and never will be fit for purpose as PM. Turnbull got the gig because he was ‘popular’ but the shine has well and truly gone as he implements all of Abbott’s policies. Bishop is a lightweight that has failed in the past in real ‘meaty’ positions. Morrison and Dudton are headkickers. Pyne should be ashamed to call himself a South Australian…SA is the happening, progressive state…the Pyne…arghhh!

        • Hettie

          Yes to all of that Joe..
          Just want them gone.

      • Miles Harding

        “Liberal Leadership” is also a classic contradiction.

  • john

    Getting rid of the STC’s hmm.
    Doing that; what exactly are they going to put in place?
    I would guess sell your production of energy on the market every day or sign up for some company to do it for you?
    First problem we do not have a decent connection system in place to enable this kind of on market time of placement sell buy market in real time.
    Something to do with the pathetic method of rolling out a connectivity network system.

    Smart Country sorry not this country.

  • Sally Noel Triggell

    We live in Qld and see constantly the lies and propaganda from the liars nasty party first hand, but yesterday was just too much. A very large bill board on a tandem trailer on the side of the main road claiming that renewable energy would lead to major blackouts and large increases in electricity prices. How can any one with half a brain believe this. We are fortunate to have been able to put a 6.5 kw system on our house. To see the lies and propaganda just sickens us, there should be a law against out right lies.

    • Joe

      Young Sally, it must be the glare from your solar rooftop that is blinding the ‘liars nasty party’. Over 1.7 million Australian households know the truth and more are joining the rooftop solar revolution everyday. Go well with your 6.5 kW’s worth of goodness, yes.

    • john

      Sally unfortunately lies and disinformation is rampant and it is delivered all day and at night to you and every one else on radio and Television let alone the Fox network.
      Now you may take issue with that bill board; but unfortunately in the media and on Radio and Television the same message is given.
      I do not know how to fix this situation.