Rooftop solar subsidies – ACCC calls for axe.

Rooftop solar subsidies should be completely removed and the solar feed-in tariffs should be managed at a state rather than a federal level, according to recommendations from the competition watchdog.

Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s electricity affordability report, which was released this week, highlights the cost of our National Energy Market, which include the large-scale renewable energy target, the small-scale renewable energy scheme and solar feed-in tariffs.

The ACCC said the cost of the LRET are expected to fall in the years after 2020, and were happy to leave the scheme to wind up on its 2030 end date. They said that the SRES, however, cost $130 million in 2016-17, and should be wound down and abolished by 2021, almost ten years ahead of schedule, to reduce costs for all consumers – not just those with solar installed.

The report, according to the Australian, found that households with solar panels installed earn $538 per year via feed-in tariffs, which doesn’t count the fact that they pay less for electricity as well:

“Meanwhile, non-solar households and businesses have faced the burden of the cost of premium solar feed-in tariff schemes and the SRES,” the ACCC said.

“While premium solar schemes are closed to new consumers, the costs of these schemes are ­enduring.”

With the New South Wales solar feed-in tariff to drop by 44% this financial year, the glory days of feed-in tariffs could be behind us. But at what point do we stop to count the social cost (i.e. the environmental displacement)? 

Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia - Opposition Leader Bill Shorten
Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia – Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (source: Wikipedia)

The 398 page report has ‘produced vital ammunition to reform energy’, has been ‘hijacked by zealots’ and doesn’t justify the building of new coal-fired power stations, depending on who you ask. About an hour ago Bill Shorten admitted he hasn’t read the ACCC report yet so it’ll be interesting to see what his thoughts are. Certainly just early days for this conversation, but it’s good to see Australia talking about our energy future and trying to come up with a plan. Watch this space! 

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Australian Solar Subsidies under fire in 2018.

Australian solar subsidies are expected to cost $1.3b in 2018 as the Clean Energy Regulator estimate that 22 million small-scale technology certificates will be created. This will add approximately $100 to the average Australian solar bill. At what point, if at all, do we look at reining these subsidies in? 

Australian solar subsidies

Australian solar subsidies - Clean Energy Regulator
Australian solar subsidies – Clean Energy Regulator (source: cleanenergyregulator.gov.au)

The small-scale technology certificates (STCs) are given to people installing solar panels, and electricity retailers are required to buy them. So although this expected $1.3b will ostensibly be paid by the energy retailers, naturally the cost is passed on to the end user – resulting in even higher electricity bills.

Jeff Bye from Demand Manager in Sydney, a company that trades STCs, was quoted in the Australian as saying this years cost increase means an average electricity bill will raise by around $100:  

“The cost increase (this year) is about $800m and there are 8 million households … so there’ll be a cost impact of around $100 per household. The electricity impact might be $40 or $50 per household but businesses will pass through the additional cost too … That subsidy of $500m last year, or $1.2bn to $1.3bn this year, is added on to everyone’s bills.”

Is it time to abolish the solar subsidies?

Is this fair for renters or apartment dwellers (a rapidly increasing segment of the population)? At what point do we start to reconsider these subsidies?

With the price of solar + storage driving down as the technology gets better and better, there’s certainly going to be a ‘tipping point’ where the market can stand on its own two feet. But with Australian solar growing at an astronomical pace it’ll be difficult to find the right time/method to adjust these subsidies.

According to Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, the Australian Energy Market Commission found the average cost to households over the past five years was about $29 a year.

“The AEMC forecasts residential electricity prices will fall over the next two years as renewable energy, including small-scale solar supported by the Renewable Energy Target, enters the system,” Mr Frydenberg said. So potentially some of that $100 will be offset by lower prices from the energy retailers. 

His political opponents were a little less hopeful – as backbencher and former PM Tony Abbott fired back after hearing the statistics, saying:

“Australians are paying far too much for our emissions obsession. Government must end subsidies for new renewables,”

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, Chair of the Coalition’s Backbench Energy and Environment Committee, told Chris Smith on 4BC his thoughts on the scheme:

“All these schemes have done is make electricity prices dearer for every single Australian.”

Whilst those quotes can certainly be taken with more than a grain of salt given the abysmal state of Australian politics, it’s definitely worth having a look at these subsidies against the cost of solar, its level of technological maturity, and schemes to help low income earners, renters, and apartment dwellers benefit from renewable energy as well. 

 

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ACT’s Next Generation Energy Storage Program

The ACT’s Next Generation Energy Storage Program will provide solar batteries to over 5,000 homes and businesses by 2020, offering $25m of funding so ACT residents are able to take advantage of rapidly evolving solar battery technology at a subsidised price. 

Next Generation Energy Storage Program

Next Generation Energy Storage Program in the ACT (source: actsmart.act.gov.au)
Subsidised Solar Batteries – Next Generation Energy Storage Program in the ACT (source: actsmart.act.gov.au)

According to ACT Climate Change Minister Shane Rattenbury there are plans to increase the current amount of storage by up to 36x by 2020: 

“We’ve already had around 400 batteries installed across the city. It’s providing over a megawatt of storage which is both helping households cut their energy bills, manage their own energy usage, but also provide backup for the grid here in the Territory,” he said.

“The battery storage roll-out program is building on Canberra’s reputation as a globally-recognised hub for the renewable energy industry,” Mr Rattenbury was quoted as saying – noting that the program will offer support of up to $825 for each kilowatt of sustained peak output for homes and businesses who install a battery (it can be connected to a new or existing PV solar system). The government estimates that this will represent a subsidy of approximately $4,000 for an average household solar system. 

Six partners have been awarded $3m in grants to help fund the project: ActewAGL Retail, Energy Matters, EPC Solar, Evergen, ITP Renewables, Origin Energy, Power Saving Centre, and Solar Hub. EPC Solar and Evergen were already in the project, the rest are new additions. 

Mr Rattenbury also noted that this project will also help expand the virtual power plant Reposit Power and EvoEnergy are currently trialling: 

“The batteries are also contributing to the world’s largest residential virtual power plant being trialled by Reposit Power and EvoEnergy (formerly ActewAGL Distribution), which allows battery owners to sell their energy to the grid to help support the electricity network.”

For more information and how to apply, click here to download the actsmart battery storage fact sheet

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‘National Energy Guarantee’ a national disgrace.

Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership has been fraught with spineless (or a complete lack of) policy and the Government’s announcement of a National Energy Guarantee yesterday was congruent with what we’ve come to expect. In short, their national energy policy removes the Clean Energy Target, has 0 renewable energy policy after 2020, and defers critical decisions to state Government, the Australian Energy Regulator, and the Australian Energy Market Operator. The ‘National Energy Guarantee’ policy is based on a unanimous recommendation by the independent Energy Security Board, chaired by Dr Kerry Schott.

National Energy Guarantee

As per the official document, the National Energy Guarantee will actually comprise of two separate guarantees, determined and enforced by different bodies: 

The reliability guarantee will be set to deliver the right level of dispatchable energy—from ready-to-use sources such as coal, gas, pumped hydro and batteries—needed in each state. It will be set by the AEMC and AEMO. The goal of this is to help stop blackouts like those seen in South Australia last year and reduce prices by using long-term contracts rather than short-term spot prices. 

The emissions guarantee will be set to contribute to Australia’s international commitments. The level of the guarantee will be determined by the Commonwealth and enforced by the AER. This means that renewable subsidies and incentives have been scrapped completely – retailers will be responsible for ensuring their power is efficient enough to help Australia meet its international obligations (our Renewable Energy Targets signed up during the Paris climate change conference). No word yet on what the penalty would be for those not reaching this target but presumably they’d be able to make up for it the next year or face a light slap on the wrist. 

This is a ‘technology- neutral’ position which does not ‘pick winners’ – so it’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. What impact will it have on the myriad Australian solar farms currently in various stages of development? What about future plans? 

Residential Energy Prices

The Government estimates this Guarantee ‘could’ lead to a reduction in residential bills – around $100-115 per year over 2020-2030. They’re hoping to reduce spot price volatility without using subsidies or taxes – which theoretically could help the ballooning cost of electricity in Australia. See the graph below which is labeled ‘% increase’ on the Y axis – which may make it a little more difficult to see that the price has more than doubled every year since 2012. With Australian wages stagnating and underemployment at an all-time high, something needs to be done about these gigantic increases. But is this really the way to go about it? 

National Energy Guarantee - Average Retail Electricity Price Increases 2004-2017
National Energy Guarantee – Average Retail Electricity Price Increases (source:energy.gov.au)

We understand it’s difficult to balance this rapidly increasing price with the subsidisation of new technology which can take time to show results, but this 50c/day saving is hardly the ‘game-changer’ it’s hailed to be – so the myopic choice of ignoring Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s recommended Clean Energy Target in favour of a 50c / day saving Turnbull can’t even guarantee is a perfect metaphor for the endemic, anaemic, short-sighted policy we’ve come to expect from Australian politicians over the past decade or so. How far can we kick the can down the road? I guess we’ll find out. 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that coal-fired generators have no future in Australia. Have renewables reached the point where they don’t need any help from the Government with regards to subsidies or tax breaks? Prima facie this looks like an atrocious plan for renewable energy and Australia’s energy future as a whole.

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