Victoria’s state Labor government has almost tripled the amount of rooftop solar rebates on offer to the state’s households for the month of September, as part of a raft of changes to the troubled scheme.
State energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio on Wednesday morning announced that an additional 23,000 rebates would be opened up to application this financial year, and that Solar Victoria would release two separate rebate allocations each month, to better meet demand for discounted rooftop solar.
All up, the increased allocation of rebates boosts the total number being offered across the 2019 financial year to a total of more than 60,000, an increase of more than 50 per cent.
The Andrews government policy, which from July had offered 3,333 rebates of $2,225 off the cost of residential rooftop solar installations, has faced heavy criticism from industry, amid claims the design has effectively put a cap on the market, and forced some businesses into liquidation.
Two separate publicprotests were held against the scheme, to demonstrate the urgent need for changes to the number of rebates made available each month, and to the application process itself.
SEC chief John Grimes, who has led the public protests, had recently warned that the “mess” must be fixed before 1 September, or Father’s Day would “be a day of heartbreak for many Victorian solar workers.”
Two weeks later, Grimes joined minister D’Ambrosio outside state parliament as she announced the much hoped-for adjustments.
A further 3250 rebates will be released two weeks later, taking the total to 9750 rebates across the month – in a bid for supply to catch up with demand. In October, 6500 rebates will be released across the month.
Other changes include the reservation of a number of rebates for written applications – in a concession to those consumers and retailers who choose not to engage online.
And retailers will be able to lodge final online quotes on the Solar Victoria portal at any time, in a change D’Ambrosio said would be implemented from Thursday – to reduce pressure on both Solar Victoria and and the online system when applications open each fortnight.
D’Ambrosio said expanding the program would boost installation rates in the lead-up to summer when maximum cost-cutting on electricity can be delivered.
“We’re strengthening this landmark program, which has already helped 35,000 households put a power station on their roof, saving them hundreds of dollars a year on their energy bills.
“We’ve listened to Victorians and to the solar industry about how we can make Solar Homes even better. These measures will mean cheaper bills for more Victorians this year, and provide a shot in the arm for the industry.”
The government said it was also establishing an Industry and Customer Reference Group to strengthen its engagement with industry and as a conduit for feedback to Solar Victoria.
Business mentoring programs, and further webinars on how to use the Solar Victoria online portal will also be initiated.
Industry has welcomed the changes to Solar Homes, including the Clean Energy Council, which has also worked with the government and the SEC to negotiate the new measures.
“The Clean Energy Council welcomes the additional support for the Solar Homes program and we will continue to work closely with the Andrews Government to ensure that all Victorians can benefit from the best quality, safest and most affordable solar systems in Australia,” CEC chief Kane Thornton said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We believe the government’s decision to release close to three times the number of allocated rebates in September will help address the backlog of applications for rebates. This will help solar installers and businesses get back to what they do best – putting solar panels on the rooftops of Victorian families.”
John Grimes said the significant increase in solar rebates was a “big win” for the Victorian solar industry.
“The Victorian Government has listened to solar businesses and solar workers and responded to their concerns. This is what good governments do.
“We know how much too many of you were hurting. We know the pain this has caused. And we know this won’t fix all our problems immediately,” he added.
“But getting the industry back to work, and preventing more company closures in the short term was a key objective. Overall the agreement is a step in the right direction.”
Solar retailer Smart Energy also welcomed the changes to the scheme, which it said had had a flow-on effect, even to larger, well established companies.
“The capped quota has placed a huge strain on the industry in Victoria. It’s evident the demand for solar is there, the quota filled in 90 minutes last month, and after that nobody was buying so it left independent contractors and mum and dad solar businesses out of work,” Smart Energy co-founder and Director Elliot Hayes said.
“We have an Australia-wide network of contractors we provide regular work to. The increase in quota means we can provide further support and work to contractors in Victoria which just hasn’t been there with the capped rebate.”
Green groups, too, welcomed the improvements to Solar Homes – which is seen as a flagship program in Victoria’s energy transition.
“We’re pleased the necessary tweaks have been made to ensure Solar Homes is helping as many people as possible get solar panels on their homes as quickly as possible,” said Environment Victoria campaigns manager Dr Nicholas Aberle on Wednesday.
“Rooftop solar plays a key role in reducing strain on the electricity grid at peak times. The more solar we have, the better the grid will cope during summer heatwaves.
“More solar installations sooner means we are getting more clean, renewable energy into the system ahead of the coming retirement of Victoria’s polluting coal power stations. This is a good thing for people’s energy independence, their power bills, and the climate,” Aberle said.
“Implementing such a large rebate scheme will always involve teething issues. We look forward to continuing to work with the government to ensure Solar Homes is a success, including through a growing connection to improved household energy efficiency.”
Meanwhile, the National Electrical and Communications Association said it still had concerns around the safety of PV systems being installed in the state.
“Many skilled electricians and inspectors (still are being) left in the dark and not receiving any solar work,” said NECA Victoria’s exectuive director Pawel Podolski in a statement on Wednesday.
“This could lead to a lack of public confidence in solar, which risks undermining the whole industry,” he added. “NECA will continue to engage with the government to ensure better safety standards are implemented.”
Solar Victoria, which oversees the scheme for the state government, has made concerted efforts to ensure the safety and high standards of systems installed under the scheme, by restricting participation to CEC approved retailers, and issuing strict guidelines to technologies that can be used.
Among the “enhancements” announced on Wednesday, a further emphasis on safety was also promised, through an increase in post-installation audits.