Solar Victoria heeds solar industry activism, frees up 23,000 solar PV rebates

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The Smart Energy Council and other solar representatives met again with Victorian Government this week to discuss possible changes to the Solar Homes Rebate Program. The program’s rollout had brought the Victorian solar industry on its knees after, among other unintentional consequences, the imposition of an artificial boom and bust cycle crippled many solar installers. After a Solar Rally on the steps of Victorian Parliament and a follow-up rally outside the offices of Premier Daniel Andrews, the Government has responded to industry concerns and wrought significant changes to their program.

The first and most important key change is the addition of a substantial number of rebates in September and a continual increase every month for the remainder of the financial year. On top of this, in an attempt to curb the stark boom and bust structure of the program previously, the Government will also increase the frequency of rebates to twice a month, in bimonthly allocations.

For September that means the program will release 6,500 rebates on Sept 2 and 3,250 rebates a fortnight later, bringing the total number of September rebates to 9,750 – that’s 6,417 more rebates than the original monthly allocation of 3,333. In August the monthly allocation of 3,333 rebates was exhausted in under 90 minutes. September is a giant leap forward for the program but in October the rebates will flatten down to 6,500.

This is an enormous victory for the solar industry and solar customers, not just because the rebate has been expanded so cavalierly, but because the value of the rebates has remained constant. Much of the compromising tone from solar activists in recent months has been suggestive of halving the value of the rebates in order to double the allocations, but the Government has instead doubled down on its goal of pushing the state to 50% renewable energy by 2030.

The changes also reflect the state government’s desire to listen to and respond to the solar industry’s concerns. Sometimes the system works.

According to the SEC, the key details of the changes are:

  • A tripling of the number of rebates for September.
  • A doubling of rebates between now and the end of 2019.
  • Almost 50% increase in the number of rebates in the first half of 2020.

 

The Minister for Solar Homes, Lily D’Ambrosio, said expanding the program will boost installation rates in the lead-up to summer when maximum cost-cutting on energy bills can be delivered.

There are also a number of allocations being held offline for applicants who wish to apply for the rebate offline. This was another point of activism for the solar industry and its customers who found the online portal overdone with enough bureaucratic hurdles to put Sally Pearson off her stride.

The concerns about the functionality of the online application portal, described as a “dog’s breakfast”, has been heeded by the Government too. In an attempt reduce the challenges in the application process, retailers will now be able to lodge final online quotes through the portal at any time, significantly reducing pressure on the system.

Additional enhancements

In addition to the allocation boost and the clearing up of the online portal, the Government will also establish an Industry and Customer Reference Group “as a commitment to strengthening our engagement with industry and to provide a conduit for their feedback to Solar Victoria.”

Other enhancements include the expansion of industry briefings, a business mentoring program to be conducted by Small Business Victoria and a further increasing of the emphasis on solar safety with more post-installation audits.

Industry Response

 John Grimes, SEC CEO, and the loudest voice in what became the SEC’s Save Solar Jobs Campaign, welcomed the government’s decision, saying it would help solar workers get back to work.

“The solar industry has been desperate for an increase in the allocations for the solar rebate program and a streamlined application process, to allow more Victorians to install solar and reduce their power bills,” said Grimes.

“The Victorian Government has listened to solar businesses and solar workers and responded to their concerns,” said Grimes, “this is what good governments do.”