NSW solar feed-in tariff slashed by 44% for 2018/19

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IPART makes good on plan to slash state rooftop solar tariff almost by half, ignoring concerns cut will penalise solar households for their role in helping to bring power prices down.

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One Step Off The Grid

New South Wales pricing regulator IPART has made good on plans to slash rooftop solar tariff almost by half, ignoring concerns the cut would penalise the state’s solar households for their role in helping to bring power prices down.

In a final decision published on Tuesday, IPART said it had set the state’s feed-in tariff benchmark at between 6.9-8.4c/kWh for the period of 2018/19, down from 11.9-15c/kWh.

The 44 per cent reduction in the price retailers are recommended to pay NSW solar households for their rooftop PV exports – it serves only to guide retailers, and is entirely voluntary – was first flagged by IPART in March.

And in an update published in May, IPART justified the proposed tariff cut by reasoning that wholesale electricity prices were forecast to fall in the coming financial year, partly because of the impact of rooftop solar, and so solar payments should, too.

This argument was reiterated by IPART on Tuesday, as it cut the price even further.

“We set the benchmark range based on our forecast of the average price that retailers would pay for solar exports across the day (weighted by solar output) if they were buying this electricity on the wholesale spot market,” IPART said.

“We consider that this is reasonable, and that a higher benchmark would lead to unacceptable outcomes.

“Specifically, if retailers were required to pay more than this for solar exports, they would be paying more than they pay for wholesale electricity on the NEM.

“As a result, retail prices for all customers would need to be higher to recover the difference,” it said.

How much? IPART says if the feed-in tariff was doubled , it could add around $19 a year to the bills of average households, or around 5c a day. But typically, it does not calculate the benefits that increased solar cold have on lowering prices.

And the regulator denies claims that cutting the tariff will effectively punish the state’s 10 per cent of solar households for the contribution they have made to shifting peaks, cutting network costs and reducing wholesale power prices for all consumers.

In fact IPART disagrees with that notion, instead taking the line that solar exports are not likely to provide system-wide net benefits for networks, and in some cases – on some parts of the grid – were more likely to do the opposite.

“Solar panels do have the potential to create network benefits by deferring network expenditure where it reduces demand on the network at peak times, but this is likely to be the case only in limited parts of the network,” the July report said.

“In many parts of the network, solar exports are unlikely to contribute to meeting peak demand on the distribution and transmission networks because the peak occurs in the late afternoon when the proportion of exports is very low.

“In these areas, solar exports are unlikely to defer network costs. In other areas, large volumes of solar exports are driving higher network costs due to additional investment required to support the bi-directional flows of electricity to handle the volume of solar exports,” IPART said.

“In summary, the benefits of solar depend on the particular location in the network, and as a result recent reviews by the AEMC and the Victorian Essential Services Commission (ESC) both concluded that potential network benefits are too variable between location, across times, and between years to be well suited for remuneration via a broad-based tariff.

“We consider that solar customers should be treated like any other generator in the competitive electricity market, which means that they take or pay the market price – and are not otherwise compensated or penalised for their impact on these prices,” the report said.

As we noted in May, this seems to fly in the face of a move by Ausgrid to encourage more rooftop solar in its network so that it can deflect network upgrades.

IPART’s line also stands it apart from its counterpart in Victoria, which was asked to include both a social price of carbon in its tariffs.

Green groups and solar advocates have reacted angrily to the decision, describing it as “daylight robbery” a big step in the wrong direction.

“The decision to cut the feed-in tariff punishes solar owners, it’s like getting a pay cut for working overtime,” said Solar Citizens senior campaigner Shani Tager in emailed comments on Tuesday.

Tager cites research commissioned by Solar Citizens that shows NSW solar households cut at least $2.2 billion off the wholesale price of power for everybody in the state in just one year.

“Solar owners have been doing the heavy lifting, keeping the lights on in NSW during heatwaves and cutting power prices for everybody, it’s time that the many benefits of rooftop solar are recognised,” she said.

“Letting big energy retailers off the hook and allowing them to make a profit from the hard work of solar owners is daylight robbery that won’t end until the government steps in.

“The buck stops with the NSW government, they should use their power to intervene and set a fair price for solar that takes into account the wholesale price of power as well as the social and environmental benefits of rooftop solar.

“Slashing the feed-in tariff sends absolutely the wrong message to households in NSW who would like to go solar,” said Tager.

The NSW Greens also pointed the finger at the state government, describing the tariff cut as is a direct result of the its failure to instruct IPART to assess the true value of solar power.

They say the tariff cut is a major step in the wrong direction, particularly for a state that – as we reported here – relies on coal generation more than any other grid in the world, and has also been Australia’s biggest net importer of electricity, a new report has found.

“If the NSW government are serious about supporting renewable energy then they should be change the criteria to assess solar feed-in tariffs to recognise the multitude of benefits solar energy brings,” Greens MP Tamara Smith said on Tuesday.

“NSW should be ensuring that electricity retailers pay a fair price for the solar electricity that is fed into the grid from roof top systems, which takes into account the avoided health and carbon costs solar brings by reducing the amount of fossil fuels that are burnt.

“Unless the NSW government steps in then this decision will be a huge hit to the electricity bills of over 400,000 households and businesses that have installed solar panels in NSW and will act as a disincentive to further uptake of solar panels.

“Solar power is working to even out demand peaks and reduce electricity prices. Households and businesses should be rewarded for this service, not penalised for the benefit of big coal.

“The Greens recognise that solar power leads to cleaner air, reduced carbon emissions and cheaper electricity.  The uptake of solar power should be encouraged and that is why the Greens have introduced a Bill into the NSW Parliament to ensure a minimum, fair price for solar.”

Where the state government did exercise its influence was in the introduction of time-dependent solar feed-in tariff benchmark ranges, which was also confirmed by IPART on Tuesday (see table below).

This “specifically requested” change, the report explains, means retailers “could choose to offer a tariff that varies depending on the time of day the solar customer exports to the grid.”

And while IPART argues there is little measurable value of solar to the grid, these time-dependent price ranges serve to place a value on battery storage – or stored solar power.

“Even though solar exports are very low after 5pm, we set benchmarks in the later afternoon and evening because wholesale prices are highest at this time,” IPART said.

“Currently, customers have a limited ability to respond to a high feed-in tariff in the very late afternoon because there is limited sunlight at this time. However, these benchmarks provide a price signal to customers with batteries, or considering purchasing batteries, about when they should export their energy to the grid.

“Only around 1,600 households in NSW currently have batteries, representing less than 0.1 per cent of households. But over time this signal will become more important as battery prices fall and their uptake increases,” the report says.

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here.

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22 Comments
  1. lin 4 months ago

    IPART and the NSW Libs – working together to to help the Fed Lib/Nats justify spending Australian taxpayer dollars building another coal power station in NSW.

  2. Tom 4 months ago

    That’s what it’s worth.

    • Joe 4 months ago

      That’s what it may now be worth to the retailers but us home producers know a lot better. To me the health and environment benefit of our clean green electrons is ‘priceless’ and the Energy Sharks are going to be paying us less again. Self consumption and home storage will be front of mind once again.

    • Consider 4 months ago

      Why dont we turn off our solar systems on the hot days or coldest days to send a message of what they are worth.

      • Tom 4 months ago

        That’s the ticket 🙂

  3. Jo 4 months ago

    The cynical highlight is this recommendation in the IPART report (see page 16 of https://www.ipart.nsw.gov.au/files/sharedassets/website/shared-files/pricing-reviews-energy-services-publications-solar-feed-in-tariffs-201819/final-report-solar-feed-in-tariff-benchmarks-201819-june-2018.pdf ):
    ” We encourage all customers, including solar customers, to regularly shop around for a better deal. The Australian Government’s Energy Made Easy website (www.energymadeeasy.gov.au) provides information about the offers that are available. Customers can also use the tool provided on the IPART website (www.ipart.nsw.gov.au) to help compare these offers based on how much solar energy they are likely to consume and export.

    —> the recommended government website does not include feed-in tariffs for solar nor any of these ‘rebates’ that are making a true comparison impossible

    And the tool on the IPART website is so labour intense that probably nobody will be able to use it in a meaningful way.

    How can a market work if there is no transparency?
    Actually IPART plays an active role in mudding the waters: They allow an extra 10% to the retail price that all consumers pay to be used by the retailer to give rebates to customers.

    • MaxG 4 months ago

      These days the FiT is only goodwill; the retailers would abandon it rather sooner than later… thus grabbing the energy for free, laughing about the fools who installed capacity to export.
      Every day I have a smile on my face for building a system that doesn’t need the grid.
      The reminder for those who care: I deliberately sold the suburban home and moved to the sticks to achieve extreme bill reduction (in number and value); e.g. own energy, water, sewer… ditched all subscriptions and insurance years ago (other than car, trailer, Internet).

  4. George Darroch 4 months ago

    “In many parts of the network, solar exports are unlikely to contribute to meeting peak demand on the distribution and transmission networks because the peak occurs in the late afternoon when the proportion of exports is very low.”

    Can someone explain this to me?

    Solar is not contributing to meeting peak demand because its production is at peak demand, and therefore is being used rather than being exported?

    • Rod 4 months ago

      It is bullshit George. What it should say is solar is not contributing to the “new” peak.
      Before solar came along the Summer peak was around 4pm. Winter around 6pm.
      The “new” Summer peak is now around 6-6:30pm when the sun is going down and solar exports are dropping off (or being self consumed)

      • George Darroch 4 months ago

        And that late peak will in turn be affected by the new commercial tracking solar systems.

        • Rod 4 months ago

          Yep. I saw a graph of the extra output from the first tracking farm in Oz and knew then that tracking farms would be a game changer.
          As well as West facing installs and increasing storage, the ducks head will be cut off. Until EVs take off anyway.

  5. Rod 4 months ago

    The moral of this story:
    Install a split array. EW or NW.
    Self consume as much as possible during high solar times.
    If installing new, consider a hybrid inverter to be ready for storage when the price drops. (Unless of course, you have your heart set on a Powerwall)

  6. PLDD 4 months ago

    I understand the logic of linking the FIT to the wholesale price and as RE lowers the wholesale price falls I expect the FIT to fall. BUT I also expect my unit cost of electricity to fall by a similar amount – $0.06 off my FIT then $0.06 of my KWh charge. Not the paltry 0.3% ($0.003) my retailer is doing.

    I also agree it’s irritating that IPART ignore the reduction in transmission and distribution costs (less new investmentrequired) and the peak shifting and smoothing donestic PC is achieving.

    If the retailers don’t pass on a unit cost reduction to the sam3 value of the FIT maybe it’s time IPART also set the standard/maximum unit rate for all suppliers. The “efficient market” would then see retailers drive efficiencies and reduce costs and prices to attract a greater market share. And flying pigs will be common in the skies of NSW.

    • Tom 4 months ago

      Daytime prices fell more than morning and evening when you consume power.

      • PLDD 4 months ago

        However, my retailers time of use charges peak rate of 60c a unit starts at 2:00pm. And their daytime rate is 25c (my current daily rate). So a pricing structure that only makes sense if I use a lot of power overnight – which is a bit tricky these days as council noise regulations ban the use of heat pumps, air conditioners, pool pumps etc after 10:00pm.

        The failure of this system is you can’t prescribe a price for one component and then let the related components float free.

        I understand the logic of using the true wholesale price…..but the logic only holds of the unit cost reflects that pricing structure. I suggest it doesn’t and still prices electricity “to value” not “to cost”. If IPART “sets” prices in one area it needs to set maximum prices in others.

        • MaxG 4 months ago

          Time of use is a rip-off scheme: you get charged the highest when you need it most; elsewhere this is called blackmail.

    • MaxG 4 months ago

      You have to get rid of the idea that energy companies are a social enterprise acting in the interest of the consumer. They don’t; they don’t have to and they will not. Full stop.
      The baby fell out of the tab when public assets were sold. This is the root cause, and nothing will change this until energy is publicised (or as some refer to democratised).

  7. Jon 4 months ago

    One of the main things this does is make batteries more viable by increasing the price difference between imported and exported power.

  8. Kim Ryan 4 months ago

    Why is there only one wholesale rate? Seems odd to pay a generator selling hundreds of megawatts and transmitting power hundreds of kilometers the same as a home owner with PV just sending their surplus power a few meters down the street. And we still pay around the same flat $1 per day network fee, even if we produce most of our own power. The disparity between feed in and grid price is so large now, people could be tempted to just sell direct to their neighbors. Also, pushing more people toward battery storage (as their own surplus power is under valued) will harm the generators in the long term, so can’t see why they support this.

    As others have suggested, IPART needs to be redirected from a purely market driven ethos, and be more like their Victorian counterpart with a wider perspective. Maybe in 2019?

    • Pedro 4 months ago

      You hit a good point there with peer to peer selling of electricity. The mechanism for payment is being built via the Perth developed Powerledger crypto currency. I also know of one very significant inverter manufacturer building the enabling software and making an AP. There are also a few small housing developments experimenting with peer to peer energy transactions. I guess the trick is to work out the minimum size battery bank that will give a very high reliability.

      Very poor and unfair FIT, rising electricity bills will in effect drive the speed of peer to peer selling of electricity. I would also predict that certain sections of the grid opt to form micro grids.

  9. narayan chand 4 months ago

    If the Libs can find a way to put another dollar in the pockets,of the multibillioniers,they’ll move hell and earth to do it.

  10. Ian 4 months ago

    You all, stop whinging and buy battery storage. Can’t you see this is a ‘price signal’ to move on from the parasitic grid-tied solar, to the more mature solar plus storage option. Imagine going to Bunnings to flog them plants that you have grown, or woolies bread that you have made, off course they are going to kick back against the idea of the seller becoming the buyer.

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