Solar is said to be a rising issue in the Australian electoral landscape, particularly in states where one-quarter of homes have PV panels on their roof.
Given this, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a front-of-mind issue for NSW voters – particularly with 300,000 homes with rooftop solar, and 146,000 of them due to lose their generous premium feed-in tariffs of 66c/kWh in late 2016 – to be replaced, perhaps, with no tariff at all.
But solar has struggled to make its voice heard in the NSW election, unlike in Queensland, where the real prospect of a change in government – and the Coalition’s targeting of rooftop solar – made it an issue, particularly in the state’s south-east.
In NSW, the issue has been overrun by the debate over coal seam gas, particularly in regional areas where safe National seats may be lost to the Greens or Labor; and by the proposed sale of poles and wires, and who they might be sold to – possibly a Chinese government-owned entity.
It’s a shame that the electricity issue has been reduced to ideological stances on public ownership, because in the politics of poles and wires the key issue for solar homeowners – and the future of distributed energy – has been in the structure of regulations and policy.
Those details, however, have not been heard. And if Mike Baird is re-elected on the weekend, that will be one of the critical issues going forward: what sort of guarantees will be written into the contract on the leases.
As for rooftop solar tariffs, both major parties have hedged their bets. The Coalition has an environment minister that “gets it” about solar in Rob Stokes, and is even supporting a scheme to encourage “virtual net metering”. But when asked this week, Stokes’ spokesman said that the issue of rooftop solar tariffs would be addressed later this year.
Labor’s leader Luke Foley also ‘gets’ solar, and his party’s election platform promises to require the pricing regulator to get a “fair tariff” on rooftop installations. Presumably that would include requiring the regulator to include the benefits of household solar on the grid, and to take a closer look at the claimed networks costs.
One interesting addition to the election intrigue is Andrew Thaler, who is standing as an independent, pro-renewables candidate, and is part of a small block of independents that has managed to get a position “above the line”
“As owners of the 407kW Singleton Solar farm and the 70kW Superdome Solar array, I choose to demonstrate the applications of renewable energy rather than blithely lobby for it,” Thaler said.
“What better way to demonstrate the potential, the outcomes, the ‘power’ of Renewable Energy than by physically delivering the idea and ‘practice what you preach’.”
Solar Citizens earlier this week published this solar scorecard on where the parties stand.