Industry wants Victoria solar rebates to target lower income homes, more batteries

Just a week after the launch of the Victorian Solar Homes program, the solar industry has called on the Victorian Government to focus its solar rebate program on lower income homes, after the first round was exhausted in just three days.

The Victorian Solar Homes program currently has a means-testing threshold that limits eligibility under the programs for applicants with household incomes of below $180,000 per annum.

However, even with the means-testing requirement in place, the demand for rooftop solar may overwhelm the number of grants available to households, with the rebates potentially covering up to half of the cost of a new solar installation.

The Smart Energy Council has called on the Victorian Government to reduce the means testing threshold to $90,000, to limit the rebates to households that will receive the most benefit from a solar installation.

“Demand is strong, which means the current scheme design is leading to disappointment for consumers and threatens to damage hundreds of Victorian solar companies,” the Smart Energy Council said in a statement.

“The Smart Energy Council supports the Victorian Solar Homes Program and will work with the Victorian Government to improve the rollout of the program to help Victorians slash their power bills and ensure a strong, sustainable and safe solar industry in Victoria.”

The Smart Energy Council also hopes that the Solar Homes program – which aims to add some 2.6GW of rooftop solar over a decade – can be used to provide greater support for the uptake of household battery storage systems.

“The program could also be expanded to include more solar batteries, targeted at priority locations, albeit at the existing household income threshold,” the council added.

The recommendation from the Smart Energy Council follows similar calls from solar advocacy group “The Solar Cutters”, that has established a petition calling on the Victorian Government to reduce the threshold to improve the fairness of the scheme.

“This reduction would create greater opportunity for low-income households to install a solar power system and reduce the ongoing cost of electricity,” the Solar Cutters petition says.

The Victorian Labor Government announced ahead of the State election held in November last year that it would establish a new $1.3 billion rebate scheme to support the installation of rooftop solar systems.

Solar Victoria will allocate rebates on a staged basis, with around 3,300 rebates made available each month as to avoid a sudden surge, and then crash installations. Many in the industry will be cautious of a repeat of the “solar coaster” effect that has been seen across numerous other government initiatives supporting rooftop solar.

While the industry has welcomed support for rooftop solar installations, many were wary of the impact the announcement would have on the immediate demand for systems, with some evidence that prospective purchasers have been holding-off committing to purchase a system until a rebate was secured.

Newly appointed CEO of Solar Victoria, Stan Krpan, sought to allay the fears of both installers and potential rooftop solar customers, that the program would provide steady and predictable support for the sector, after the first iteration of the Victorian solar homes program was also inundated with applications.

This included ensuring that around 600 households that had solar installed before the rebates becoming available, would still be eligible for financial support, in recognition that they had installed systems “in good faith” before applications for rebates had opened.

The effect of this was on show at the start of July, with the opening of the latest round of rebates seeing an overwhelming number of applications flooding in to secure one of the 3,300 rebates on offer for July.

The surge in demand is believed to have caused the Solar Victoria website to crash and the quota for July being fully exhausted within three days.

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