A proposal by Western Australia’s state-owned electricity provider, Synergy, to effectively double the charge to connect the state’s more than 191,000 solar households to the grid has been slammed as unfair and counter-productive.
Under a proposal floated on Tuesday by Synergy chairman Lyndon Rowe, WA home owners who have invested in solar technology could see their annual electricity charges increase from around $820 to $1666.
As reported on WA Today, Rowe, while claiming to be “a believer” in rooftop solar, argues that the annual charges of solar households don’t reflect the actual cost of being connected to the network.
“I’m a believer and it’s a segment that will continue to grow,” he told Perth radio. “They are not paying the actual fixed cost of being connected to the network. That means other consumers have to pay or the taxpayers have to pay. That’s not fair. That’s not efficient.”
But Solar Citizens Consumer Campaigner, Reece Turner, says the proposed charge is discriminatory against solar homeowners and risks stunting the state’s investment in cheaper, clean energy.
“It’s a ludicrous idea that Premier Barnett should step in and rule out immediately,” Turner said in a statement on Tuesday.
“More than one in five homes are powered by the sun. These people have made the sensible decision to invest in clean, abundant energy and should not be penalised.”
As Turner also notes, the proposal looks a lot like Synergy is looking for a scapegoat to cover up for it’s spiralling budget losses.
As we have said many times before on One Step and its sister site RenewEconomy, WA’s electricity grid is a basket case.
Last year it required more than than $620 million to bridge the difference between the cost of generation and delivery of its ageing coal and gas infrastructure, and the price it charges to consumers.
As we wrote here back in March, this massive and clearly unsustainable subsidy has largely been brought about by an absurd subsidy to fossil fuel generators – the so called “capacity payments” – that has seen many gas and diesel plants built at public expense and never even switched on.
At the same time, WA households are adding solar at a rate of more than 1,000 homes a month, with nearly 5MW added in the month of September, according to data from the Clean Energy Regulator.
And as state energy minister Mike Nahan has himself conceded, almost all homes and most businesses in the state are expected to install solar, particularly as the government rolls back the subsidy on grid-based power, which still amounts to more than $500 a year for each household.
Dr Nahan said the government was also set to remove a regulation which prohibits batteries from feeding energy back into the grid, in a move expected to flatten the peaks and troughs of solar power.
But WA is not the only state to have proposed a “solar tax” on households. Just last month, the New South Wales electricity networks backed away from their own controversial proposal to impose special network charges on households exporting their solar output back into the grid.
The proposal – made last month in a document “Electricity Tariff Reform in NSW” – outraged the solar industry, which pointed out that most solar households in the state are paid nothing, or very little (just 4.8c/kWh), for the excess output sent back into the grid.
But as Turner notes, public outcries in NSW and in South Australia, where a similar proposal was floated – both resulted in them being withdrawn.
So too, he adds, WA’s “‘sun tax’ proposal should be binned by Premier Barnett before the ink is dry.”
The WA Greens have also slammed the proposal, arguing that charging solar customers even more for infrastructure that was built in the past, and that they will utilise a whole lot less, makes no sense.
“The WA Greens support tariff reforms to create a more cost-reflective pricing system in Western Australia, and to lower government subsidisation, which at present is unsustainable, but increasing costs to those customers who are trying to do the right thing is not positive reform,” said Greens MP Robin Chapple.
“I also am concerned about vulnerable households, as those who consume more power at peak times are not necessarily wealthier customers. I am glad to see that concessions will be restructured to aid these people, but I would like to see the details.
“Ultimately, we should be making it easier and more worthwhile to switch to cleaner technologies and this policy, on top of everything else this government hasn’t done to help the transition, will only put more people off.”