NSW solar rebate a success for community

The New South Wales Gross Solar Feed In Tariff will finish on December 31st 2016.
Whilst its end will be a disappointment to the 120,000 or so homes that have been on this scheme what is clear now is that it has been a resounding success.
When the O’Farrell Government proposed retrospective cuts to the scheme it caused an unprecedented backlash, ultimately resulting in the Government acquiescing to the solar citizens of NSW. The scheme was reduced and called to an end but the proposed retrospective cuts were avoided.
I was fortunate to be heavily involved in the incredibly successful campaign to challenge the State Government on this issue with a fine team of industry stalwarts. We spent weeks analysing, lobbying, doing media interviews, arranging events and generally being focused on one sole outcome.
There were dozens involved but in particular, Warwick Johnston, John GrimesGeoff Bragg and Wayne Smith deserve huge praise for their sustained and dedicated efforts. Behind the “point team” there was also a massive and dedicated force of solar installers, solar retailers, solar wholesalers, industry associations and of course, tens of thousands of solar citizens who dedicated time, money and energy – I wish I had space to name you all!. This was a monumental example of the collective force of (solar) people power in action.
Ultimately, changes to the scheme were avoided, although we suffered vitriolic and vindictive retaliation from the Government as a consequence. The industry faced spot audits, unfounded claims about fire risks and inflated claims about the schemes likely costs.
Now that it’s all said and done, solar industry claims that the scheme cost had been inflated by Government were proven dead accurate; modelling done by Warwick Johnston and I at the time estimated a scheme cost of around $1.2Billion, almost 40 per cent less than the Government numbers of almost $1.9 billion (in some reports as much as $4Billion) – and pretty much spot on where the final cost landed.
According to these new reports, the total cost of the scheme amounts to around 50c per week, per New South Wales electricity account holder.
With the headline ” Cost of solar subsidy scheme blows out: Levy adds $25 to bills”, its clear that some in the media continue have a narrow minded and one eyed view on the scheme and are more interested in finding any possible reason to criticise solar than actually looking at how much the scheme didn’t cost, or how much the wider benefits contributed to the State’s economy.
Understandably, the many account holders who didn’t install solar might feel somewhat aggrieved at paying (anything) given that they didn’t receive direct benefits, albeit a mere 50c per household. However, what is clear now is that for the wider community and indeed the State as a whole there were benefits that ultimately flowed back to everyone, even those without solar.
The Scheme’s original objectives were job creation and the increased uptake of solar.
In these two core objectives it was supremely successful:

  • at it’s peak 8,190 people were directly employed in solar in NSW
  • 846 electricians achieved accreditation and diversified their business
  • around 300MW of solar capacity was installed, with a decrease in peak demand and network stress (at times)

Great – if you had solar or worked in solar – but what about the wider benefits for everyone else ? What did they get ?
Actually, they got quite a lot indirectly:

  • around $150M of GST revenue went to the State
  • 8,190 employee’s paid payroll tax to the State
  • employment for around 4,000 non direct support industries was created, with additional revenues and taxes
  • around 60% of installs were outside Sydney helping to strengthen regional and rural NSW economies
  • More than 120,000 electricity meters were upgraded from antiquated old meters to new digital technology
  • around 1.4M tonnes of CO2 was avoided
  • Retail utilities received “windfall profits” through REC pricing and energy reselling
  • Energy Australia alone created $35.9M of extra goods and services through metering, administration and connections

In addition there were some softer benefits that flowed through:

  • the community was rapidly, personally and widely educated on the benefits of solar
  • countless schools, community organisations and other not for profits had more disposable income to do good stuff through lower energy bills
  • many vulnerable members of the community benefitted including nursing home residents, the elderly and retiree’s
  • New South Wales gained global attention and recognition for being innovative and visionary
  • manufacturers of equipment and installers invested in larger and more sophisticated facilities and equipment
  • solar’s benefits became intrinsically instilled in the minds of school children through new curricula
  • the solar buying community developed valuable experience in how to choose solar products
  • new business models were developed, tested and in many cases implemented, remaining in place today

I’m sure there are more, but I think you get my point.
The NSW SBS scheme wasn’t perfect and those who invested their money in solar benefitted more than others, however, the remainder who contributed a mere 50c a week helped create a far reaching and positive legacy for every single person in the State through the indirect flow on benefits, many of which continue today.
This is a great, real world example of the true societal benefits of solar and I for one, applaud it.
Nigel Morris is CEO of RoofJuice

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