Solar panels are time bombs - really?

Sometimes I'm dumbstruck by the poorly researched drivel about renewable energy that gets a run in certain sections of the Australian press.

Sometimes I struggle to comprehend how certain sections of the Australian press seem to consistently and uncritically spout inaccurate and poorly researched drivel about renewable energy.

Spouting the alarmist headline “Solar panels are time bombs”, The Australian ran a story today the likes of which we haven’t seen since disgraced NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher (currently under investigation by ICAC) launched a vicious vendetta against solar energy, when their proposal to slash solar FITs was beaten down by homeowners.

After being forced to relent, the NSW Government launched a similar media campaign in 2011 suggesting that solar power was dangerous, and initiated a spate of inspections and audits revealing little except that they were out to take revenge.

This time government Senator Ron Boswell is leading the vendetta, stretching the facts and the truth to suit the government's ever more obvious end-game of abolishing the RET.

Where is Boswell wrong?

Boswell said that:“the Labor government’s subsidy to encourage home owners to install solar panels, the Small-scale Renewable Energy Certificates scheme, led to an overheated market in which shoddy operators and cheap imports thrived.”

Firstly, the fact is that the Queensland Liberal State Government’s axing of its FIT scheme was actually responsible for the biggest rush in installations in Australian history; Campbell Newman and every Queensland Government minister who voted for this change are responsible. The SRES had already been wound down substantially (and six months ahead of schedule) in mid-2012 and again in late 2012.

One can only assume that blaming the RET for this rush when it is not true, is clearly a politically motivated lie.

Take a look at Boswell’s website and you can read a speech he made in November 2012, where he was calling for the axing of the RET and Carbon Price, somehow coming up with the ridiculous and incorrect notion that the RET was costing $5 billion.

Boswell claimed the RET is forcing manufacturers out of business and that the Carbon Price is “the major contributor to rising power costs”. That’s a grossly misleading and deceptive statement as the Prime Minister and every other protagonist of such rubbish has been forced to admit. The major contributor to rising power costs is government-owned network costs.

What is the case is that thousands of homes and businesses, many in Boswell’s electorate, are turning to solar to reduce their operational costs. In fact Queensland has one of the highest take-up rates in the country, so Boswell has inadvertently attacked the decisions and investments made by almost 300,000 Queenslanders.

Ironically, on the same day as his stinging attack on solar, Rio Tinto announced they had agreed to install 6.7 MW of solar in the remote Queensland town of Weipa to reduce their reliance on expensive (and subsidised) diesel fuel and reduce operational costs. So here is an international company in the resource sector employing Queenslanders acknowledging that solar helps its bottom line.

Like so many others in the Coalition, Boswell appears completely ignorant of the fact that the people he claims to be helping will actually be harmed by his out-of-date and misleading statements. He seems determined to slow their ability to save money by bringing about the early demise of the RET and other agencies that are actually helping to build Queensland.

Boswell said: “The RET is foisting expensive and unreliable power on us and driving out the cheap, dependable and abundant energy sources we have relied upon for decades.” Unreliable? Expensive? Better come in from the paddock Ron and check your facts because blind Freddy can see solar power makes sense, a point validated by the government's own department (BREE) in 2012 when they caught up on the falling costs of solar power.

His speech has more holes than a Queensland coal mine, clearly his constituency and major concern.

What I find most staggering about Boswell’s attack on solar is that he claims to be passionate about supporting small and medium businesses in Australia.

Guess what Senator Boswell – the vast majority of solar businesses in Australia are SMEs. And guess where the majority of them are located? Queensland. Your ruthless and spurious attack on solar energy has the potential to harm or destroy the livelihood of around 6600 people employed in Queensland (2012) and more than 1000 business owners.

Boswell said in The Australian that “The flaws and waste associated with this scheme have been largely under the radar because of the scale of the personal tragedies associated with the pink batts fiasco, but as an exercise in silliness, waste, and maladministration, the solar scheme has been its absolute equal.”

Based on what possible metrics does he substantiate this claim?

The SRES has a small administrative cost to the government for the Clean Energy Regulator and no bottom line budget cost for certificates.

Subsidies to the energy industry on the other hand, cost around $10 billion a year to the government bottom line.

The regulations, audits, standards and compliance requirements are higher than almost any other industry sector and yet, our compliance rates are continually improving, according to data presented by the Clean Energy Regulator only a few weeks ago at Solar2014.

I challenge Senator Boswell to demonstrate how in any way, shape or form the SRES is the pink batts' scheme “equal in silliness, waste, and maladministration”. This is a repugnant statement without any merit, designed to connect solar to the insulation tragedies and terrify homeowners for your governments’ political gain.

Now, where we do agree with Senator Boswell is that we need to ensure solar systems are safe, and quality is assured. The aim needs to be for 100 per cent compliance and zero per cent danger – but like any other industry, things will unfortunately go wrong. Industry can only try harder, ensure standards and technology are constantly improved, and do its absolute best.

As disastrous as the current issue is, it is worth noting that “70 isolators are reported to have burned out” with “minor house fires in some cases”. Seventy isolators represent an issue of 0.0002 per cent of solar systems in Queensland, so a little perspective is warranted.

The Coalition’s alarmist attack on solar via Senator Boswell and supported by gullible and uncritical journalists is shameful and clearly politically motivated.