Solar panel rebates have been scrapped, but solar credits might be worth more to consumers

By Tina Perinotto

9 June – The weekend newspaper advertisement promised savings of $13,000 on a new solar power system.

“Millions of years of sunlight. Less than a month left to capture it for FREE,” it said.

But that was Sunday.

By Tuesday the federal government’s solar panel rebates that had created a boom in solar power systems had been suddenly scrapped and suppliers were in chaos.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the scheme had cost around four times the budgeted amount and would be replaced by a “Solar Credits” system that would be more widely available, but which industry sources said would be cost around $5000 less.

Managing director of Clear Solar Paul Wilson, whose company had placed the advertisement, was frantic when TFE spoke to him at around 4 pm.

“We’ve got staff working till midnight, customers queuing up the staircase,” Mr Wilson said.

With just hours to go before the rebate became redundant at midnight, his company had already taken around 1000 orders.

But Mr Wilson was not pleased. It was no way to run a company, he said.

“We’ve got ads booked in newspapers for today and tomorrow that are now all incorrect and have to be rewritten. We have to retrain staff and change the website – all on 12 hours notice.

“The Government lacks a lot of maturity. It thinks it can run a country by turning businesses into chaos. It’s completely irresponsible.

He understood that the budget for the solar system had been oversubscribed (by four times according to Mr Garrett) but that was no excuse for such a sudden turnaround.

“They should have given more notice,” he said.

“We’ve got a business to run.”

Since the scheme started Mr Wilson’s company, which has around 180 staff and is one of the country’s biggest, had installed around 15,000 solar panel power systems.

Why did he think the program had been so popular?

“For every reason. Everyone wants to do the right thing and with this they come out on top – that’s why it’s been so successful.”

What did he think about the new rebate program on solar credits?

“We are delighted about the new program…the only thing is it will be about $5000 less generous.”

Mr Garrett said in a media release on Tuesday that the announcement, part of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), would “allow for the creation of new Solar Credits to replace the existing Solar Homes and Communities Plan (SHCP) from today onwards.

“Solar Credits will build on the largest ever investment in solar panels in the nation’s history under the Solar Homes and Communities Plan, with more than 80,000 solar systems set to be installed on Australian rooftops since the Rudd Government came to office,” he said.

Mr Garrett said the Government had committed over $700 million to the SHCP – more than four times the Government’s original commitment – and that all existing eligible applications would be funded to ensure a smooth transition to Solar Credits.

He said there were more than 63,000 solar installations still in the pipeline, including rebates either pre-approved or applications received.

“This means that not even accounting for Solar Credits, there is about 12 months work based on the industry’s current rate of installing around 1,000 solar PV systems a week, still in the system as a result of the Solar Homes and Communities Plan.

“With Solar Credits broadening the availability of solar technology to all homes irrespective of income, as well as businesses and community groups, plus the ongoing rollout of the $480 million Solar Schools program, now is the time to let industry get on with the job of meeting these record levels of demand and for Government to provide a new kind of support to build this industry further,” Mr Garrett said.

He said in an interview later that solar credits had the potential to be worth more than the current solar rebate if the price of renewable energy certificates increased.

“People will get at least $5000 for a one kilowatt system, $7750 for a 1.5 kilowatt system. And remember, that is on the basis of the current price of the renewable energy certificate.

“It’s at about $50. If the price of the certificates go up, people will actually receive more under Solar Credits.