New South Wales is seeking to boost the uptake of solar by the state’s low-income households, with the launch of a $15 million initiative that offers to install free rooftop PV in the place of a cost of living rebate.
The trial scheme, announced late last month, targets families receiving the government’s Low Income Household Rebate – a modest $285 a year (78c a day) energy bill deduction.
It will offer up to 3,400 eligible households the option to forgo that payment in exchange for 2.5kW of rooftop solar – a small system compared the the average size being installed today, but which will nonetheless deliver much improved power savings over the rebate.
“The bill savings from the rooftop solar trial are expected to be close to double the value of existing rebate savings with an average bill reduction of $600 per household per year,” said acting secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment, Dr Liz Develin.
“This means that households who choose to participate in the program could be around $300 better off each year.”
The “entirely voluntary” trial will be rolled out in five regions, including Sydney’s South, Central Coast and North Coast, and Illawarra’s Shoalhaven and South Coast.
“We know energy bills are placing pressure on low-income consumers, so we must ensure that we are doing everything we can to offer support for struggling households,” Devlin said.
The move is undoubtedly a positive one, in a state with a patchy record on rooftop solar.
As the latest report card from the Climate Council revealed, NSW lags well behind its northern neighbour, Queensland, on rooftop solar uptake, coming in at fourth place out of all the states and territories with PV on just 18 per cent of households.
On top of not having a renewable energy target, nor any real plan to replace its ageing coal power stations, the state recently slashed its rooftop solar tariff almost by half, setting the benchmark at between 6.9-8.4c/kWh for the period of 2018/19, down from 11.9-15c/kWh.
As we reported here, the 44 per cent reduction in the price retailers are recommended to pay for rooftop PV exports was seen as controversial, and interpreted by some as a perverse penalty on NSW solar households for their role in helping to bring power prices down.
Others, including the NSW Greens and consumer group Solar Citizens, blamed the NSW government for the tariff cut, describing it as a direct result of its failure to instruct IPART to assess the true value of solar power.
“Unless the NSW government steps in then this decision will be a huge hit to the electricity bills of over 400,000 households and businesses that have installed solar panels in NSW and will act as a disincentive to further uptake of solar panels,” said NSW Greens MP Tamara Smith, at the time.
“Solar power is working to even out demand peaks and reduce electricity prices. Households and businesses should be rewarded for this service, not penalised for the benefit of big coal.”