Victorian energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio has rejected suggestions that the design of the state government’s rooftop solar rebate has effectively put a cap on business in the state, arguing instead that the market has been expanded as a result of the scheme.
In an interview at the Clean Energy Summit in Sydney on Wednesday, D’Ambrosio said the rebate – which offers $2,225 cash back on residential PV installs – had been “very, very successful” in extending the benefits of rooftop solar to Victorians who could otherwise not afford it.
The comments come just one day before the second lot of just over 3,300 rebates open for application on August 01, and less than a week after an emotional rally outside state parliament protesting the scheme’s devastating impact on some parts of industry.
Opponents of the policy say its staggered design – where applicants race to apply for a total of 3,333 rebates at the start of each month – has brought business to a halt, while consumers hold off investing in solar until they can access the government discount.
According to Smart Energy Council chief John Grimes, at least three solar businesses are known to have gone into liquidation in the last couple of weeks, because trade has been strangled by the design of the scheme.
“I’ve seen people in tears. It’s bad, really bad,” Grimes told One Step after last week’s rally. He said the scheme was poorly thought out and overly complex, making it all but impossible for many installers and customers to negotiate.
The SEC and its members have repeatedly called for urgent changes to be made to the design of the scheme, including a tightening of the eligibility criteria, to free up more of the market to continue functioning under business as usual.
Namely, they have argued that the combined income threshold for households – currently capped at $180,000 a year – should be halved, to focus the scheme’s benefits more closely on low-income families.
They have also warned that a repeat, in August, of what happened in July – when the full 3,333 quota of rebates was snapped up in just three days – would sound the death knell for even more solar retailers and jobs in the state.
“Tomorrow is D-Day for Solar in Victoria,” an statement from the Smart Energy Council said on Wednesday.
“Tomorrow, August 1, the State Government will announce how many homes will be available for the latest release of the rebate. Fears are that if the Solar Homes Program is not changed, hundreds of solar workers will be laid off, and people will not be able to access solar on their homes.
“Installers are deeply concerned that if the solar program continues to be beset by bureaucratic minefields and difficult to navigate facial recognition software and the rebate numbers aren’t significantly increased, there will be even more pain throughout the industry.”
But D’Ambrosio – just hours out from the launch of the second round of the staggered monthly offer – has stressed there will be no changes made to the current design of the rebate, which she said was “absolutely getting the results” intended.
“More people have been able to make a decision to buy solar panels to save money – people that otherwise would not have invested, because they didn’t have the upfront cost to actually enter the market,” D’Ambrosio said on the sidelines of the conference.
“So the market is being expanded as a result of our rebate program.”
“We shouldn’t be confusing the number of rebates that are released monthly by the government with the opportunities in the market for the industry,” she added.
“There is a significant market outside of the rebate program, including people who earn more than $180,000 a year (combined income) and the commercial-industrial sector, which is growing every day.
“There are significant opportunities for the market that are outside of that rebate program. So the notion that, somehow, there is a cap is incorrect,” D’Ambrosio told One Step.
“At the same time, we will continue to work with industry, have the conversations about how we can make it easier for them to make the adjustments, and to also look at helping them to diversify opportunities… to gain share of the market that sits outside of the rebate program.”