Australia Solar Abbot

The rationale behind the Abbott Government’s incessant unravelling of support for solar power is unclear. What is clear is that almost every single day, we find another example of their systematic destruction of an opportunity that many countries would be jumping at, if only they were blessed with our natural resources.

We have previously described how almost every solar program and support policy in Australia is either under threat or already axed and recently learned that yet more programs are quietly being unraveled.

Sources recently revealed exclusively to SolarBusinessServices that things may be even worse than we thought. There has been wide spread speculation that the Million Solar Roofs program is in doubt due to the fact that ARENA’s budget appears to already be fully committed. First touted as a better alternative, the program is a key plank of the Direct Action program and was doubled in length, then halved in value to a paltry $500 per system just days before the election. Details of exactly what that program looks like, how it will work and when it will start remain elusive after more than 6 months in power. Indeed, during February Senate estimate hearings Ivor Frischknecht, ARENA’s CEO advised the Economics Committee that ARENA has “received no direction from the government that it will administer and fund the Coalition’s promised Million Solar Roofs rebate program”.

Our sources have essentially confirmed the obvious saying that “There is no way it can happen; Million Solar roofs a dead duck  before it even got started and everyone in Government knows that”.

Then there are the Solar Schools and Towns Programs. In late 2013, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said….“Our Direct Action Plan therefore encompasses support for solar power through our million roofs and solar towns and schools programmes. The Solar Towns Programme will support at least 25 Solar Town projects with a maximum of $2 million per town. The Solar Schools Programme will support a minimum of 100 schools with a maximum grant of $500,000 per school.”

These two programs had budgets of $50million each and were due to start rolling out in the 2014/2015 financial year with Hunt saying “they are being prepared for implementation now”. However, our sources have confirmed that “being prepared” is clearly Government code for “we are trying to work out how to tell you they aren’t going to happen”.

What we now know is that proposals for these programs were put up, knocked back and work on their implementation has ceased. A few towns might sneak through, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that these relatively small $50M programs are going to potentially cost almost as much to administer as they would deliver. Based on ARENA’s current funding conundrum,  the wider programs appeared unfunded and unsupported and our sources have confirmed that  industry fears are true.

Looking at some of the past announcements that may get through, it also seems the projects are being watered down before they start; an announced series of projects in Tasmania has apparently become a group of aggregated community buildings rather than a wider roll out in a town. Just why these projects which were announced in December 2013 won’t see a cent until July 2014 seems hard to understand too. Administratively, one would envisage they would be very difficult to administer being such small systems. We also saw an announcement 7 months ago from South Australia for eight small community buildings and a similar one for Victoria’s surf coast.

Now small community groups are just the right kind of entities that deserve support, but just what support will they get, who will administer it and what the rules be? What actually defines a solar town? No-one actually knows because there aren’t any guidelines, so just how or why these particular towns were selected over and above others remains a mystery (marginal electorates anyone?).

Our sources suggest these projects are a red herring to throw industry off the trail of a wider program cut and buy some time.

Here is my challenge to Government: if these claims are untrue, given the relatively paltry amounts at stake ($50M for each of the three programs) and the potential for them to assist towns, schools and low income owners to reduce electricity costs then make an announcement and get on with it. Give towns, schools and community groups an equal chance to apply and give industry a chance to respond in a  well managed roll out which leverages scale, manages quality and uses the best technologies available.

I’ll put $50 on the table right now that these programs don’t go ahead. If I’m wrong, I’ll publicly apologise and donate $50 for every program to a charity. All Id like to see is confirmation of  the details, terms and conditions, timing, funding source and plans to actually do this on an ongoing basis.

In sad anticipation of my bet being safe, we now have yet more evidence that Abbott is systematically destroying every single support program for solar in Australia.

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Photo Credit: Australian Solar Politics/shutterstock