Election power play casts NSW Government and Opposition as sun seekers


In Western Sydney yesterday, 9 February 2019, the NSW Opposition Leader, Michael Daley launched NSW Labor’s Solar Homes policy. If Labor is elected on 23 March it will offer half a million of the state’s households that have a combined income below $180,000, a rebate of up to $2,200 on installation of rooftop PV systems.

Within 24 hours, of Daley’s launch, the state Premier Gladys Berejiklian today announced the Liberal Empowering Homes program, set to provide $3.2 billion in interest-free loans to households, again with a combined income of up to $180,000, to purchase solar and battery systems.

Berejiklian’s statement, “Embracing new technology is a good way for many people to access cheaper energy…” stands in dramatic contrast to last Thursday’s declaration by Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and National Party Leader, Michael McCormack who said, “We don’t want to go down the path of renewables.”

With polls repeatedly showing that Australians favour renewables over coal-fired power generation, it’s unsurprising that the NSW Liberal Government should seek to distance itself from the Federal Liberals’ lack of political leadership on climate change, emissions reduction and energy transition.

Last year’s annual Lowy Institute Poll, for example, found 84% of Australians support the statement that “the government should focus on renewables, even if this means we may need to invest more in infrastructure to make the system more reliable”.

Richie Merzian Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Australia Institute says, “Our Climate of the Nation 2018 report found that only 5% of Australians prefer coal-fired power over other energy sources.”

In today’s announcement, incumbent Energy Minister Don Harwin acknowledged the renewables revolution already under way, saying, “More than 400,000 households and small businesses in NSW are already benefiting from solar power.”

The NSW Government’s “poster” for its solar Empowering Homes program. Image: NSW Government

Image: NSW Government

He added, “This new program will help up to a further 300,000 households over 10 years reap the benefits of solar with no-interest loans for solar energy and battery-storage systems.”

Both parties recognised the electricity-bill relief that rooftop solar systems can confer on householders, with Searle saying Labor’s Solar Homes could save householders between $600 and $1,000 on electricity bills. Harwin calculates that under Empowering Homes, a family with a $500 quarterly electricity bill could save up to $285 a year on their bills during the period of interest-free loan repayments; and more than $2,000 once the loan is repaid. The calculation for households with quarterly energy bills of around $875 is for initial annual savings of $640 while repaying the loan, increasing to $2,390 upon full repayment of the loan.

John Grimes, CEO of the Smart Energy Council responded to the dual announcements saying they are, “a real boost for families wanting to slash their power bills with solar and batteries.”

The Smart Energy Council also noted that support for the purchase of batteries in tandem with solar PV systems will give families greater control over how and when they use power.

Energy Minister Harwin’s plan specifically offers loans of up to $14,000 for solar-plus-battery systems, and up to $9,000 for battery systems that would presumably be installed to extend the utility of existing rooftop solar-PV systems.

In all, the Government anticipates that its commitment to supporting battery-backed systems will add “up to 3,000 megawatt hours of storage” to the NSW energy system, according to today’s press release.

The Government announcement also promised that it will, “use this program to encourage battery manufacturing in NSW as part of the roll out, which will create jobs and encourage innovation.”

Said Grimes, “The Smart Energy Council is very pleased that both the NSW Government and Opposition understand that solar and battery storage saves money and creates jobs.”

The graphic promoting NSW Labor’s election promise of a Solar Homes program. Image: NSW Labor

NSW Labor

Holly Dawson, Greenpeace Australia Pacific Campaigner, responded to Labor’s policy announcement calling it a “fantastic initiative”, but also called for the next NSW government to “introduce a solar rebate to help families that are renting, to access solar panels”; and to define “how it will ensure the state’s economy is powered by affordable and reliable technology far into the future, by outlining plans for significant increases in larger wind and solar farms.”

The solar-enriched energy initiative of whichever party emerges victorious from the March state election will come into force after the election. Each program is proposed to run for a period of 10 years.


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