Victoria solar rebate stoush deepens, with plans for “bigger” industry protest

A second major protest in as many weeks will rally outside Victorian Parliament on Thursday, as the solar industry steps up calls for the state government to make urgent changes to its “disastrous” rooftop solar rebate.

The Smart Energy Council on Monday revealed plans for the follow-up rally, this time targeting Premier Daniel Andrews’ office, deemed responsible for the design of the scheme.

SEC chief John Grimes said the event would be “bigger and even more impactful” than the first, when hundreds gathered to protest the devastating effect the rebate has had on many businesses in the state.

“The Victorian government needs to hear loud and clear that their Solar Homes Program has been an absolute disaster and must be fixed immediately,” Grimes said in an email.

The SEC says the industry is calling on the Labor government to abolish the red tape involved in applying for the solar rebate – in this case, an overly complex and glitchy online application process – and to at least halve the dollar amount of the rebate, and then double the number available.

Currently, the rebate offers a maximum discount of $2,225 for a rooftop solar system, for households with a combined annual income of no more than $180,000.

One of the key criticisms of the scheme, however, has centred on its execution, with only 3,333 rebates opened to applications each month. In July, this number was exhausted within three days. Last week, the August allocation was taken up in just 90 minutes.

This stop-start approach, industry has argued, has had the effect of putting an artificial cap on the market, with business all but drying up in-between each month’s allocation, and causing some installers to go out of business.

“This puny number of rebates is absolutely killing us,” Grimes said in an SEC-hosted webinar, also on Monday.

“And (Solar Victoria’s) IT system is absolutely broken,” he added. “Whatever happens, we can’t have that complete debacle going forward.”

Victorian solar installer John Kurta told the webinar the government had left the industry no choice but to protest a second time, with neither the Premier’s department or its advisors taking calls from industry.

Kurta said he had called the Premier’s office over a month ago to discuss his concerns with the solar rebate, only to be told that he should send an email, instead.

“After five weeks, I got a letter back,” he said – and while he didn’t go into the details of the correspondence, he did add: “I firmly believe someone’s calculator’s broken here.”

“We must demand at least that we get spoken to by the premier, himself, …to be listened to directly about what our concerns are,” Kurta said.

“We’ve got two major problems: One is that there’s a backlog (of applications to the solar rebate); and the other is that the (monthly) cap (on rebates offered), itself, isn’t adequate to allow people to work and forecast in their business.

“This program has great potential but the reality is the execution needs to be improved urgently.

“It’s not going to take a hell of a lot to get this program back on track. But for the moment, for people in the industry, it is causing significant harm.”

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