Solar jobs in the balance, as industry awaits Victoria rebate fix

Victoria’s solar industry has again fronted parliament, in protest against the state government’s rooftop solar rebate that is accused of bringing installations to a virtual stop, and costing hundreds of jobs.

In a second public protest in as many weeks, rooftop solar retailers and installers gathered outside the office of Labor Premier Daniel Andrews to push – again – for urgent changes to the scheme.

Speaking to a crowd of around 150 protesters, Smart Energy Council chief John Grimes said industry surveys had suggested hundreds of solar jobs had been lost this year, already, as a result of the stop-start design of the policy.

“We did a survey. We asked 84 (solar companies) and collectively you told us that you have let go … 226 jobs.

“Now that’s just the ones we asked,” he added. “There are 500 solar companies in Victoria. Extrapolate the numbers, my friends, we’re looking at close to a thousand jobs already gone. Companies going into liquidation every single day.”

Grimes said the Andrews government had let the industry “fall off a cliff,” despite feedback from the SEC, the Clean Energy Council and numerous solar businesses that the rebate had put a cap on the market, and was killing trade.

“Hang in there, they say. Hang in there. …It’s coming back on the first of July. And what happens? 3,300 rebates! What the? So you’re telling me that the rate that you’ve set, which is a cap on the industry, is less than we were doing at the same time last year?

“That’s just extraordinary. And when the industry tells you this, sits down across the table and says, ‘please minister, please intervene. This is a simple fix.’ You put down your pen, and you say ‘Read my lips, there will be no changes to this program. Shame.”

Grimes also warned of the fallout for consumers, if large numbers of solar companies were left to fail.

“All of those people, shortly, are not going to have any company at all to provide the warranty support for their solar system. Their solar system… is now not supported by warranty.”

As we reported on Wednesday, the Victorian government has this week shown some signs of heeding the industry call for changes to the scheme, with the Premier himself on Tuesday suggesting boosting the number of rebates put on offer each month.

“I am happy to look at expanding the number of installations each month but I will only do that if I can be completely confident that high quality can be observed,” the AAP reported on Tuesday.

“There’s a delicate balance to be struck here.”

In comments on the sidelines of Thursday’s protest, Grimes told One Step the SEC had heard nothing further from the government on the matter, but was hopeful that industry pressure, and the promise of pressure from the Liberal opposition, would deliver a resolution.

“If (the Andrews government) don’t solve it this week, then next week this goes thermo-nuclear, because the whole focus of the parliament is going to be on this. So that’s why they need to resolve it, but that’s up to them.

“There is, I think there is some movement, but what they need to do is know… it’s got to be a serious resolution, and not just a half-hearted resolution.

“More (rebates offered each month) is ok, as long as it’s enough.”

Both the state’s energy minster, Lily D’Ambrosio, and Solar Victoria – which oversees the rebate scheme – told One Step on Wednesday that they had “nothing to add” to the Premier’s comments about expanding the monthly rebate.

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