Hunt's rebate can stop solar's slide

Rather than being bad economics, the Abbott government’s $500 solar rebate is needed to arrest decline in Australia's solar industry.

The solar industry in Australia is in decline – the number of solar systems creating renewable energy certificates has reduced markedly and we are seeing the solar industry contracting. The article published by Climate Spectator yesterday from Finn Peacock (Hunt's dumb solar rebate, September 19) misses some key points about the new government’s solar program and the important role that it can potentially play in expanding the solar market in Australia.

While we accept that details around the program are missing – and we were certainly disappointed funding has been halved – the REC Agents Association and other solar industry organisations have been engaging with and providing input to the new Environment Minister Greg Hunt and his colleagues on how to best leverage the government’s solar commitments.

As Opposition environment spokesperson, Hunt explained the key features of the scheme over the last few years at a range of industry conferences and events. These features are:

– Focus on low income households, a market sector that was difficult for the solar industry to access;

– Focus on solar hot water to support the industry as it was declining following removal of government rebates;

– A limit of no more than 100,000 grants paid out each year so as to avoid the boom-bust cycles that the industry had experience previously.

While the solar industry has grown rapidly in recent years with the support of the Renewable Energy Target and state government incentives, industry activity has reduced significantly over the past 12 months with the phasing out of these measures. Some figures that support this are as follows:

–156,000 solar PV systems created renewable energy certificates for the eight months to end August; this was a 31 per cent reduction on the 227,000 for the same period in 2012 and 230,000 in 2011.

– 42,000 solar hot water systems created renewable energy certificates for the eight months to end August; this was a 22 per cent reduction on the 54,000 for the same period in 2012 and 54,000 in 2011.

The environment minister has also indicated previously that he is committed to promoting quality and best practice through the solar industry.  There is an opportunity to work with the Government in developing this program to ensure that this is achieved through program design.

The solar industry is expected to contract further over the next 12 months, leading to further job losses and business closures. 

The RAA supports the million solar roofs policy which will help increase demand, particularly in solar hot water, and will help low income earners reduce their power bills by installing solar. Together with other solar industry organisations we will be working constructively with the new government to ensure that the new policy delivers maximum benefit to the industry and supports the development of new markets which make solar more accessible to low income families.

Ric Brazzale is managing director of Green Energy Trading and president of the REC Agents Association.

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