The near 140,000 households in New South Wales on premium solar tariffs will have to obtain a new meter – either at high cost or locking into a contract with a retailer – or face the prospect of giving away all the output of their rooftop solar systems for next to nothing.
That’s the picture that is slowly emerging with the details of the NSW government’s plans to handle the end of the solar premium feed-in-tariff at the end of this year.
The NSW government is hoping to use the end of the premium FiTs to accelerate the shift to smart meters, although there is confusion over how that will be done.
In an emailed statement to RenewEconomy and One Step Off The Grid following our most recent article reflecting concerns from solar installers, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage insists that the change to new meters will be entirely voluntary.
It is proposing new rules that shift the onus on smart meter provisioning to the electricity retailers, and is allowing a broader range of electricians to be able to install them to reduce the cost. Many retailers are expected to offer the smart meters for little or no cost, in exchange for locking in their customers for an extended period.
What is not clear is how those solar households who do not want to sign contracts with retailers can access the smart meters, or if households in regional areas will have the same options. Around half of the households on the premium FiTs are in regional areas.
Solar installers – more than 100 of whom attended a briefing from the NSW government on the issue last Friday – fear that the only choice for these households is to hire a “level 2” electrician that could cost $600 or more for installation and the new meter.
The alternative is to stay on so-called “interval meters” which will only measure the gross solar output and will not allow the households to use their own solar power to offset the cost of grid power.
In other words, they will pay whatever tariff they can secure from their own retailer for all their solar output (this could be around 6c/kWh) and pay the prevailing retailer rate (around 25c/30c/kWh, or more on time of use tariffs) for all their usage.
“Most metering stock currently rolled out to Solar Bonus Scheme customers is effectively interval meters with communications capability and does not have the capability to read both net and gross solar panel output,” the department of resources and energy says.
“This limits the range of data many existing customers can get from their existing meter – hence the need to change.”
The department suggests that any concerns about cost are not valid, considering the benefits that the scheme offered to solar households.
“Scheme customers have enjoyed generous subsidies for their feed-in tariffs of many thousands of dollars during the life of the Scheme. In a number of instances, this is in excess of $10,000.”
The NSW government will announce further details of options for solar households in a letter that is due to be sent within the next week.
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of One Step Off The Grid, and also edits and founded Renew Economy and The Driven. He has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.
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