Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Subsidy Cut Halts Solar Expansion

A SOLAR panel supplier has axed its plans to expand into Queensland after the government revealed it would slash the benefit for supplying power back into the grid - from 44¢ per kilowatt hour to 8¢.

Madison Australia's rethink came as industry lobby group Clean Energy Council argued the policy change could put thousands of jobs at risk, saying householders would reconsider the benefits of installing solar panels given the time taken to recoup their investment.

But Energy Minister Mark McArdle described the solar industry as viable, saying the scheme needed to be changed because all energy users were paying extra on their power bills to subsidise the feed-in tariff for solar panel owners.

Mr McArdle announced yesterday the feed-in tariff for providing power back to the grid would be cut to 8¢ per kilowatt hour, but anyone already in the Solar Bonus Scheme as of July 9 would continue to receive the 44¢ benefit.

Madison Australia director Yorath Briscoe said his Melbourne-based solar installation and retailing company was about to sign contracts in coming weeks to expand into the Gold Coast market.

He said the company had been planning to directly employ six staff in Queensland and contract up to 18 tradespeople, but the cut to the feed-in tariff would hit demand.

“There's going to be massive demand the next 10 days but after that there will be nothing,” he said, adding the company would no longer pursue the Queensland expansion plans.

“It's quite shocking that a government would pull the plug like this.”

The Clean Energy Council said under the current Queensland system, an average householder would break even on the initial investment after 4.5 years.

The average payback period would jump to about 10 years under one scenario modelled in research commissioned by the Clean Energy Council before yesterday's announcement.

But the cost of buying and installing solar panels was expected to progressively decrease in coming years so the break-even point could be less than 10 years for future customers, a council spokesman said.