Western Australia Solar Subsidies may be cut – Wyatt

Western Australia Solar Subsidies look like they’re in the firing line right now – with Energy Minister Ben Wyatt advising that he supports either completely scrapping or winding back rooftop solar panel subsidies.

Western Australia Solar Subsidies

Western Australia Solar Subsidies - Synergy
Western Australia Solar Subsidies – Synergy (source: synergy.net.au)

Earlier this year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission called to axe rooftop solar subsidies Australia-wide by 2021. Ben Wyatt said he has asked the Public Utilities Office to have an in depth look about the buyback scheme which could probably do with a bit of an overhaul, or at least a step in the right direction, technology wise.

“While the cost of solar PV systems has reduced significantly since the introduction of the Renewable Energy Target and is now considered economically viable in the absence of government subsidy, the implications of such a change need to be fully thought through, including the impact on the local solar industry,” Mr Wyatt said.

In WA, Synergy currently pays a feed-in tariff of 7.1c/kW to 240,000 households with solar – and over 70,000 customers entitled to the premium solar feed-in tariff which is 40c/kW (there’s no indication that the gov’t is looking at winding back the premium FIT). This is known as the Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme (REBS). Mr Wyatt said that Synergy are paying ‘over the odds’ for this power during hte middle of the day, when demand is low and output high. If you’d like to learn more about WA’s unique energy situation please have a look at this article.

We’re all for furthering the cause of solar, but is it worth taking a look at maybe moving some of the subsidies and tariffs towards energy storage rather than energy generation?

Ray Challen, who was the top energy adviser as the head of the Public Utilities Office up until the end of last year, said he thinks it’s time to consider the best way to continue improving our renewable generation:

“The reason for subsidising any form of behaviour is to produce some sort of greater social good, and it would be difficult to say at the moment that there is a greater social good from subsidising small-scale solar because people could do it anyway,” Mr Challen said. “Not only that but if you wanted to subsidise anything in the power sector then you would be probably subsidising batteries.”

So will we have a solar battery subsidy? It’s hard to say at this point, but many people are talking about making a change to the way we currently reward solar generators. Would a carefully managed solar battery rebate help? Watch this space…

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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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Fremantle solar farm faces NIMBY opposition.

The proposed Fremantle solar farm, which is going to be the first major (industrial scale) solar farm in urban surroundings and is being championed by a Greens-led council, has been experiencing pushback from local residents. Myriad complaints, most of them vexatious at best, have been put forward and about 350 people have signed a petition calling for the project to face an audit by the Western Australian EPA (Environmental Protection Authority).  

Fremantle solar farm

The farm, which is to be located over 8 hectares and will be built and operated by Epuron, will produce around 4.9MW and can help Fremantle reach its goal of being 100% renewable powered by 2025. 

The problem lies in the fact that it’s going to be built on the site of a former rubbish dump (which is presumably preferable to the farm’s detractors) and, according to the Australian, the “heavily contaminated site contains ash, tyres, car bodies, marine bilge oil, hydrocarbons, ­asbestos, batteries, chemical drums, mercury and lead”. Sounds like a solar farm would be a better alternative, right? Well, some of the residents complaining are concerned about airborne contaminants during the initial land clearing phase, which could be exacerbated by strong beachside winds. There’s also anxiety about the ‘glare’ and even ‘electromagnetic radiation’. It makes sense that residents, especially those with children, want to keep them safe – but their concerns seem a little far-fetched.

Fremantle Solar Farm - Dr Brad Pettitt
Fremantle Solar Farm – Dr Brad Pettitt (source: fremantle.wa.gov.au)

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt is happy with the farm’s initial DA and advised that a site management plan will be prepared by an independent consultant, which they’ll have to strictly adhere to. 

According to The Australian, The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation said it would review an updated site management plan in response to the concerns. 

“We will only do the project if it can be done safely,” Dr Pettitt said.

Solar Farm Opposition

This is far from the first time we’ve seen this sort of reaction from people in proximity to solar farms – however they generally have to lean back on arguments about ‘agricultural land’ being misused. In lieu of this given that the Fremantle solar farm will be urban, they’ve come up with some interesting new reasons to ‘support solar, just not in my backyard’. Here are some of the other solar farms currently facing opposition from residents, if you’re interested in reading more:

  • Shepparton Solar Farm –  “…concerns about the science, about amenity, about the alienation of agricultural land”
  • UQ Solar Farm – it represents “environmental vandalism” to put install solar panels on “good agricultural land”
  • Brewongle Solar Farm – “…people coming into Bathurst will see it from the railway line”
  • The Collie Solar Farm – “eye sore” (sic) which will lead to a “disastrous situation” if the farm is approved.

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Mungari / Kalgoorlie Solar Farm Tender

Hot of the heels of their success last week after signing a contract with Western Power to construct a microgrid in Kalbarri, Carnegie Clean Energy look set to build a Kalgoorlie Solar Farm after winning a tender for the lease of 250 hectares of land within the Buffer Zone of the Mungari Strategic Industrial Area.

The Mungari / Kalgoorlie Solar Farm

Kalgoorlie Solar Farm - Battery Energy Storage Solutions Carnegie
Kalgoorlie Solar Farm – Battery Energy Storage Solutions Carnegie (source: carnegiece.com)

According to SmallCaps, Carnegie (ASX: CCE) plan to construct and operate a solar farm which is capable of supplying large amounts of electricity into Western Australia’s main power grid. It’ll be known as the Mungari Solar Farm and will have a capacity of up to 100MW. This will result in the farm being able to generate 20MWh of battery-storage each year. The farm will be located 6km south-west of Kalgoorlie – where it will be able to supply electricity to Australia’s Eastern Goldfields. Another great step forward for renewable energy in resources – they’ll have access to clean, stable energy and be able to lock in price points without having to worry about the volatility currently plaguing Western Australia. It’ll also help them move towards reaching their RET (Renewable Energy Target) – which is currently 24% of electricity generation to come from renewables by 2020. 

“Carnegie has a strong track record of developing greenfield sites into shovel-ready renewable projects rapidly and responsibly, most recently with its Northam Solar Farm,” said Dr Michael Ottaviano (Carnegie Clean Energy‘s Managing Director).

“We are excited to play a role in the development of the Mungari Strategic Industrial Area, which has an important role in the future economic prosperity of the Eastern Goldfields and look forward to working closely with local industries seeking sources of clean power generation, the State Government, local governments and other key stakeholders in bringing this project to fruition,” said Dr Ottaviano.

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Kalbarri microgrid: Carnegie to build.

The long awaited Kalbarri microgrid will be built this year and launched in 2019, as Renewable energy developer Carnegie Clean Energy have signed a $6.8 million contract with state-owned Western Power to build a 5MW Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) in the area. 

Kalbarri Microgrid

Kalbarri Microgrid Details
Kalbarri Microgrid Details (source: Western Power)

According to the contract, Carnegie’s subsidiary Energy Made Clean will be teaming up with JV partner Lendlease services to build the sustainable energy storage system. It will be able to generate 4.5MWh and a minimum of 2MWh will always be accessible for backup services. 

The BESS facility will have two different modes – “Island Mode”, and “Grid Mode”, with the former allowing operation independent of the electricity grid. Grid mode will do what it says on the tin – helping provide network stabilisation for voltage and frequency to other generation sources. 

Carnegie Clean Energy CEO Dr Michael Ottaviano was ecstatic about winning the contract: 

“We’re excited to have won an extremely competitive, global tender using the latest in storage and control technologies. This reinforces Carnegie’s leadership in the design and delivery of innovative energy solutions in Australia,” he said. 

“(this) contract award comes just over 12 months after the establishment of the EMC/Lendlease JV which has secured $25m in orders in the last 4 weeks with Kalbarri and our Northam Solar Farm. With tender cycles running in excess of 12 months, and a clear focus on delivery of high-value projects for utility grade customers, we are just starting to see the results of our hard work over the past year.” Mr Ottaviano continued. 

West Australian Energy Minister Ben Wyatt also spoke of the BESS microgrid in Kalbarri and how it is a “game changer” for communities “…subject to environmental factors that can cause outages. The improved reliability for the region will boost the local tourism and retail operations, as well as enhance the lifestyle of residents.”

 

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WA Electricity Grid Needs Upgrade For Solar

A leading energy export from the Australian Energy Market Operator has warned that the WA Electricity Grid requires upgrades over the next couple of years or else it risks being completely overwhelmed by the influx of solar in the state. 

The WA Electricity Grid & Solar

According to TheWest’s website, solar energy now makes up the majority of the WA Electricity Grid’s energy collection – representing around 700MW of capacity. They interviewed Cameron Parrotte, the head of strategy and innovation at the Australian Energy Market Operator – who noted that measures need to be put into place to manage the influx of solar into the grid before it starts to overload.  Parrotte said the amount of additional solar capacity is currently growing at 35% per year. 

“When you talk about comparison to other States, percentage-wise we are flying,” he said.

“Some people then say ‘you’ll start running out of roof space’.

“What you are tending to find is that some people who were the early adopters, some of their PVs are starting to reach the end of their life.

“Instead of putting up another 1kW to replace the 1kW they had, they’re putting in 5kW.”

Parrotte / The West said they believe solar power could fully displace conventional methods of energy generation (coal/gas fired plants) for short intervals within as few as five years. Initially, these intervals would be restricted to times when electricity demand is low (e.g. mild, sunny days in the middle of the day) but surely sends another message to those trying to delay the death of traditional electricity methods. It’s now up to providers and authorities to upgrade the grid and make sure it’s able to take the excess power solar will provide. 

We’ve previously written about blockchain powered P2P energy trading fintech platforms such as Power Ledger or WePower along with less technologically intense solutions such as community solar – the writing is on the wall here and it’s only a matter of time before renewable energy completely overtakes coal and gas fired plants, so it’s important the government act now to ensure the grid is capable of withstanding the new era of energy generation!

WA Electricity Grid - Sunwise - Ludlow Solar Installation
WA Electricity Grid – Sunwise – Ludlow Solar Installation (source: sunwiseenergy.com.au)

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Gov’t Owned Synergy Enters WA Market

Government-owned Synergy has entered the market in Western Australia for the sale and installation of solar and battery storage systems. This has caused an uproar – with many existing small businesses calling it ‘blatantly unfair competition’ and decrying the fact that a government-owned corporation with substantial competitive advantages will compete directly with small businesses. 

Synergy and the Potential Conflict of Interest

Synergy to enter domestic solar market in WA
Government-owned Synergy to enter the domestic solar market in WA

Synergy is a Government-owned corporation (website here), fully owned by the Government of Western Australia. Synergy, Verve Energy, Horizon Power and Western Power were created in 2006 as a result of the breakup of Western Power Corporation. On 1 January 2014 the retailer (Synergy) merged with the state-owned generation business (Verve Energy). They have a legislated monopoly to buy/sell all energy generated by PV solar systems on residential premises for the whole of Western Australia. According to Wikipedia, Synergy is Western Australia’s largest energy retailer and generator with more than one million industrial, commercial and residential customers, generating total annual revenue of more than $3.2 billion (14/15 financial year).

They recently entered the market for the sale and install of domestic solar/storage systems (which generally cost between $3,000 and $10,000,) competing directly with small businesses.  

Garry Itzstein and the National Electrical and Communications Association

A letter written by Garry Itzstein to the Small Business Minister, The Hon. Paul Papalia, is currently doing the rounds. Mr Itzstein is the Executive Director of the NECA (National Electrical and Communications Association) in Western Australi, which is a peak industry body representing the interests of electrical and communications contractors Australia-wide.

Mr Itzstein’s letter advises that the NECA WA “strongly urges the government to reconsider the previous government’s decision to allow Synergy to compete in the solar and battery storage installation market”, citing already increased competition and declining demand severely affecting existing small businesses. 

According to the letter, Synergy would be able to use their ‘monopoly status, financial strength and government subsidies’ to:

  1. 1 . advertise heavily to its existing customer base (which is the entire retail market of electricity consumers)
  2. leverage considerable purchasing power over equipment suppliers
  3. leverage considerable purchasing power over installers (in the end, these systems must be installed by a licenced electrical contractor)
  4. apply its vast marketing budget
  5. undertake pricing that borders on predatory

We’re inclined to agree – it seems unfair that Synergy are able to enter the domestic solar and storage market in WA and compete against existing businesses, given their huge and unfair advantages. What do you think? Sound off in the comments…

Click to read: Garry Itzstein and the NECA’s letter to Paul Papalia re: Synergy

 

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WA Solar – Installs rising, but so is ‘energy inequality’.

The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has created a research report on WA solar entitled Power to the People: WA’s Energy Future. It highlights the rapidly rising trend of solar power in Western Australia but also a more sobering statistic – so-called ‘energy poverty’ where those in a lower income bracket are spending up to and over 15% of their income on energy (with the average household energy (electricity, gas, and heating) bills no more than 4%). 

WA Solar Overview

WA Solar Installation Predictions 2017
WA Solar Installation Predictions 2017 (source: theconversation.com / CER)

Western Australia’s rooftop solar PV capacity is set to reach 2000MW by 2022 – a figure larger than every power station in WA bar one. According to the ‘Power to the People’ report, WA rooftop solar PV has increased by a massive 37% over the past 18 months. 

Western Australia solar power installers have been hard at work – with around 25% of suitable residences having solar panels installed – which brings WA to third place in Australia, behind Queensland (32%), and South Australia (31%). 

Energy Inequality in WA

WA Today also reported on the ‘energy poverty’ situation – according to the Power to the People report, low-income families pay almost $1,791 per year for energy. This is up $440 since the last year – and the report also revealed that at least one in ten single parents are spending a massive 15.1% of their yearly wage on energy. Around 25% of them spend more than 10% of their income on energy bills – while middle-income families only pay around 3% of their annual income. 

Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre director and author of the report, Alan Duncan, noted that it’s common for those on a lower wage to be renting, and at this current point in time there’s little reason for owners to install solar panels on their rental properties: “However, there is a need to revisit incentives for new solar installations, with landlords having little financial motivation to install solar on rental accommodation, and homeowners deterred by the initial upfront costs involved.”

As stated before, in WA 25% of suitable dwellings have rooftop solar installed. However, in lower socio-economic areas, only 7.4% have solar panels installed. What’s the future to combat this and try to find a way forward so we can install solar power for rental properties? Technology upgrades, government incentives, or something else? Soon enough we will reach critical mass for owner/occupiers and need to find ways to bridge the rental gap. Can the Government come up with something to help? Watch this space…

 

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Carnegie’s Garden Island Microgrid starts construction.

Carnegie Clean Energy, whose solar, battery, wave and desalination microgrid plans have been the topic of much discussion since they was announced earlier this year, have commenced construction on their 2MW Perth solar PV / battery energy storage microgrid. Carnegie’s Garden Island Microgrid (GIMG) project will be the largest embedded, grid-connected solar and battery microgrid in Australia.

About the Garden Island Microgrid

According to Carnegie’s website, Carnegie Clean Energy Limited (formerly Carnegie Wave Energy) is an “Australian, ASX-listed (ASX: CCE) developer of utility scale solar, battery, wave and hybrid energy projects.” The website notes that Carnegie is the only company in the world which has a  combination of wave, solar, wind, battery storage and desalination via microgrids.

Carnegie Clean Energy - Garden Island Microgrid
Carnegie Clean Energy – Garden Island Microgrid (source: carnegiece.com)

Using microgrid technology means the project will be able to function independently from the main power grid, and using hybrid sources of energy generation along with storage means they won’t run out of energy if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. The system will have 3MW of solar PV panels and a 2MW battery energy storage system.

Carnegie’s chief exec Michael Ottaviano was quoted earlier this year (at an energy storage conference in Sydney) discussing stand alone power systems (microgrids) – after having installed over a dozen for both Western Power and Horizon Energy. “It is just a cheaper, cleaner more secure solution than the alternative,” Ottaviano said. “The cost of technology is coming down. What was an economic driver for remotes systems, is now true for the fringe of grid and on the main grid too.”

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and Defence Minister Marise Payne released a joint statement which lauded the work done by Carnegie:  “The Government continues to support the work of Carnegie and we look forward to seeing how this project will inform Carnegie’s ability to provide energy security solutions at island locations in the future”.

Carnegie have inked supply agreements with the Department of Defense (in order to supply power and water (via the desalination plant) to HMAS Stirling – Australia’s biggest naval base in Perth, which is home to more than 2,300 service personnel.

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