$65m NSW solar roof scheme named ‘flop’
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean's $65 million green scheme to roll out solar panel batteries to 300,000 NSW households has been dubbed a "flop", with figures revealing just 150 people have signed up to date.
When he launched the scheme in February, Mr Kean boasted it would create an extra 3000 megawatts of storage capacity for the state over 20 years which would be "bigger than the size of the Liddell coal fired power station".
The plan, now on trial in the Hunter and mid North Coast, gives interest free loans to families for an amount of $14,000 for a solar panel and battery system or $9000 to retrofit a battery into existing solar panels.
Homeowners then have to repay the loan at $146 a month for eight years for the solar system plus battery, or $75 a month for an entire decade to retrofit the battery.
The home electricity bill savings were estimated at $250 a year.
Mr Kean announced the scheme originally in the budget last year as part of a suite of measures to "transition to a cleaner energy future" and to meet "our target of net zero emissions by 2050", with households being "crucial" to achieving the radical plan.
"$65.4 million over four years to support the rollout of 300,000 solar panel and battery systems for households under the Empowering Homes Program," the 2019 June budget announcement states.
But in the recently released "NSW Home Solar Battery Guide", which includes an introduction by Mr Kean, people are advised that "retrofitting a battery to existing solar doesn't make much financial sense".
"In some cases a solar battery system may not pay itself back before the warranty ends," it says.
The minister's website about the scheme also warns the batteries may never pay for themselves: "An addition of a battery to existing solar, also called retrofitting, has a longer payback period than new solar and new battery, often exceeding the warranty period," it states.
"While this option may not pay for itself, it still improves your energy self-sufficiency."
In response to a parliamentary question by One Nation MP Mark Latham, the government revealed the poor take-up rate: since February, just 150 homeowners have had the interest-free loans approved.
The pilot is due to run for another six months, before being rolled out across the state over four years.
Energy economist Alan Moran said government green schemes created distortions which undermined the economics of lower cost coal power stations, and had brought about "increases in household bills of 65 per cent".
"Governments are constantly dreaming up new subsidies for wind and solar which belie their claims that renewables are now the cheapest forms of energy," he said.
But Harrington Park Sydney resident Trevor Watters, who has a 10kw Sonnen battery along with his 30 solar panels, is very happy with the savings his $25,000 system has brought him since installing in 2018, as his bills won't be more than $50 a month. He used to pay about $1200 a quarter previously.
"You get a real benefits from having a battery, if no one is home during the day, you can come home and do all the cooking in the evening and so on, and it's using the stored energy in the battery," he says.
COST OF THE SCHEME
● $14,000 interest free loan for a solar PV system and battery, with a maximum loan period of eight years at $146 monthly repayments
● $9000 interest free loan for a battery retrofitted to solar system, with a maximum loan period of 10 years with $75 monthly repayments
● Customers will save at least $250 a year on electricity bill
● But customer still has to pay an ongoing connection fee and fee for electricity used from grid when battery empty or panels not producing electricity
● Households have to earn under $180,000 a year to qualify
● If power blackout, customer may have to pay extra network cost of $500
● Customer would have to pay for any maintenance and cleaning to run the panels efficiently and safely
● Customer might also have to pay for costs for monitoring system performance
MIXED REVIEWS FOR PM'S GAS PLAN
Scott Morrison's push for a gas-led recovery from the coronavirus-induced recession has been met with mixed reviews.
The Prime Minister unveiled a plan on Tuesday to shore up Australia's gas supply and slash power prices during a speech near Newcastle.
A $52.9 million package will be included in the Federal Government's October Budget to unlock supply at new and existing gas fields in five key basins.
A National Gas Infrastructure Plan will also be developed by February to identify priority infrastructure projects, with the Government warning that if the private sector does not invest, it will intervene by underwriting or streamlining approvals.
Australian Workers Union secretary Daniel Walton welcomed the announcement, saying decisive action would boost Australian manufacturing.
"The Morrison Government's plan stops short of the reservation scheme the AWU has been pushing for, but if done properly it could achieve most of the same ends for our manufacturing sector and the quality jobs it should support," Mr Walton said.
"This is the final chance for multinational gas companies to stop overcharging Australians for their own gas.
"If they don't play ball, the Government needs to enact its reservation powers and force them to.
"What we need now is for Labor to enthusiastically get behind this plan and remove any impediment to it becoming law."
But Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who represents Hunter where the coal-fired Liddell Power Station is due to close in 2023, told Sky News Mr Morrison's announcement was a "capitulation".
"What he is announcing is our plan, my plan as a local member," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"We've been arguing for three years now that as Liddell comes to the end of her natural life we need new capacity in the Hunter so we can maintain our status as the powerhouse of NSW."
Under the Morrison Government's plan, new gas supply targets with states and territories, and three east coast LNG exporters, will also be established.
But climate councillor Greg Bourne accused the Government of throwing taxpayer funds at a "dangerous fossil fuel".
"The Federal Government is trying to shore up the gas industry, which is in a poor financial state, meanwhile, the rest of the world is decarbonising," he said.
"This announcement delivers no jobs in the short term and will only deliver huge uncertainty into the energy market.
Originally published as 150 people sign up for $65m NSW solar roof scheme 'flop'