Claire O’Rourke

Community organisation Solar Citizens is urging Victoria’s Napthine government to take action to prevent extra fees being levied on the solar power owning customers of retailer Simply Energy.

Solar Citizens campaign director Claire O’Rourke says the company is effectively “slapping a tax on the sun”.

The fee is an extra 14 cents a day levy imposed only on domestic solar power owners that raises the householder’s fixed fees to $400 a year – $51 higher than the fixed fees paid by non-solar households. Solar Citizens is currently lobbying the Napthine government to make it a condition of retail energy licenses that power offers should not discriminate between solar and non-solar households.

The Fifth Estate has contacted GDF Suez, who is behind the Simply Energy retail brand, to ask what the rationale behind the charge is. GDF Suez is also the owner of the Hazelwood coal mine and power station at Morwell, and the coal-fired Loy Yang B Power Station also in the Latrobe Valley.

Solar Citizens is also actively campaigning for the federal government to maintain and extend the Renewable Energy Target. Ms O’Rourke told The Fifth Estate that support at a grassroots level for the RET continues to grow, with recent surveys showing 70 per cent of Australians want it to remain in place. Solar Citizens has around 20,000 signatures collected on a petition supporting the RET to date, and about 1000 people attended public meetings in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane throughout June.

Support for the organisation itself is also continuing to grow, with membership now at about 60,000 people nationally, including solar power owners, members of the solar industry and supporters of solar. To increase the organisation’s capacity to effectively campaign, two new paid staff were recently recruited.

Alex Soderland, who has a background in science communications and recently completed a thesis on the climate change debate, has been appointed campaigns coordinator, and Andrew Campbell, who has a background in digital communications, start-ups and community campaigns, has been appointed communications coordinator.

State-based teams have also recently been launched, with convenors appointed in Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

“Our members are across all political persuasions. Australians really love their solar, they are real enthusiasts,” Ms O’Rourke said.

She said industry’s biggest concern with the RET, aside from it being scrapped, is that it does not offer any certainty beyond 2016. Solar Citizens is backing calls it be extended to 2020.

Extending the RET, she said, would also give certainty to individuals who want to install domestic solar power systems.

“There are currently about 1.3 million solar systems installed around the country,” Ms O’Rourke said.

“Solar is the only way people can take control of their bills and have certainty about their power costs, and also do their bit for renewable energy.

“Ultimately solar will drive innovation in energy, and in how the energy system and energy grid is structured.”

Ms O’Rourke said it can also enable Australia to become world leaders in energy systems, given the right policy settings to drive the market.

“Policy does drive innovation as well as technology and market levers,” she said.

The organisation has observed that the price of the technology has also reduced considerably over recent years, and this is also encouraging uptake.

Reflecting on comments in the media that the RET is responsible for contributing to higher power bills, Ms O’Rourke said that the analysis shows the RET contributes a very small amount to bills, and the biggest part of price increases has been network costs.

She said modelling currently before the RET review panel, including that done by head of the panel Dick Warburton, shows the RET will bring down power prices in the long-term.

Other campaigns Solar Citizens has succeeded with have included lobbying against attempts by both the South Australian and Western Australian governments to cut feed-in tariffs, and successfully convincing the Queensland government not to impose a $200 a year fee on the 300,000 solar homes in the state.