Parliamentary inquiry into controversial Solar Homes rebate voted down

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An inquiry into the Solar Homes PV rebate mayhem has been thwarted after the Victoria Opposition bid was voted down on Wednesday. The parliamentary inquiry was promised by Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien at a protest organized by the Smart Energy Council (SEC) on the steps of Victoria’s Parliament in late July.

The push was unsuccessful with Labor MPs and three cross benchers – Andy Meddick (Animal Justice Party), Fiona Patten (Reason Party) and Catherine Cumming (Independent) voting against it. The MPs that supported the motion were from the following parties: Liberal National, Justice Party, Greens, SFF Party, Liberal Democrats, Sustainable Australia and Transport Matters.

In reaction to the voting outcome, Ryan Smith, Shadow Minister for Energy and Renewables, said the Andrews Labor Government will now continue to engage in a cover-up of a failed policy to save face at the expense of real jobs and real businesses.”With Labor’s Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio in complete denial about the growing range of problems her Solar Homes program has created for the industry, a Parliamentary inquiry would have allowed business owners and those working in the solar industry to tell their stories and demonstrate to the government why an urgent review of the policy is needed,” he said in statement.

Following the second rally held in front of his office last week, Premier Daniel Andrews signaled readiness to review the Solar Homes scheme, noting that the program is set to run for 10 years, and it has only been running for five months. “I’m happy to look at expanding the amount of installs each month,” Andrews said. “But I will only do that if I can be completely confident that high quality will be observed and safety will be observed.” However, nothing has been heard about a potential review since then.

Meanwhile, the solar industry continues to call for a review of the program as many solar installers continue to suffer under the solar rebate program acting as an artificial cap on the market. As shown by a survey of 60 Victorian solar businesses undertaken by the SEC on the last day of July, 88 % stated the rebate scheme had a negative effect on business. As many as 78% polled are facing closure as a direct result of the scheme.

According to SEC, as many as 1000 jobs could be lost from Victoria’s solar industry as a direct consequence of the Solar Homes Program.”These are the clean, green collar jobs lost as a result of the 40 per cent decline in business which is forcing business owners into bankruptcy. The losers are the companies, workers, the environment. The entire supply chain is affected,” John Grimes of the SEC said speaking in front of the crowd at the last week’s rally.

According to industry group Solar Cutters, there are increasing suspicions among some installers that “dubious operators [are] ‘harvesting’ and ‘gaming’ the initial stages to scoop up allocations, as quick as 50 rebates going a minute.” A lack of clarity from Solar Victoria regarding percentages and breakdown of allocations does not help to alleviate growing scepticism.

With July rebates snapped up in three days and August allocation gone in under two hour, industry bodies have come up with a number of suggestions to reform the Solar Homes process, such as increasing the number of rebates available by reducing the value of each rebate, and/or bringing forward future rebates to remove the months of pent-up demand which is causing big problems. On top of this, industry voices have called for streamlining the technically challenging application process and verification measures.