Solar Victoria Runs Misleading Ads They Wouldn’t Accept From Installers

Solar Victoria hypocritical on advertising

If there is one thing I hate, it’s dodgy solar installers who mislead the public with deceptive advertising and fake deals.  It harms customers who are just looking for decent quality solar and it hurts honest installers by damaging the reputation of the entire industry.  It really gets my goat, and I am extremely protective of my goat. 

But when a state government engages in misleading ads it’s fine and I don’t mind at all. 

No… wait a minute!  It’s actually worse!  I can try to avoid dodgy companies and if I do get burned I’m free to have nothing to do with them in the future.  I’m also protected by consumer law.  But governments have a monopoly on the whole governing thing.  If your government is dodgy you can’t decide to go with another government you found in the Yellow Pages.  You can’t get on the phone and go:

“Changhua County, Taiwan?  Hi.  My state government isn’t very good.  They’ve been putting stuff up on the internet which is stupid and misleading.  Also, we’ve got some COVID and we’re not very happy about that.  Could you do our governing for us?  Thanks.”

So which state government has got me all riled up and has my goat concerned for its safety?  Why it’s the Victorian Government of course!  Other state governments can be dumb and Territory governments can be crazy, but only Victoria sends shivers down my spine when they try to help people.  This is on account of the thoughtless way they drove perfectly good solar installers out of business through a horribly implemented scheme meant to benefit the industry. 

What Have Solar Victoria Done Now?

Victoria has decided to encourage rooftop solar power.  When they first started they really screwed it up, but I’m not going to go into that now.  Instead, I’ll keep my grief and bitterness over what they did bottled up deep inside.  Then, late tonight after the moon has set, I’ll rip open my chest, pull out my heart, and wring out a full cup of vinegar.  All I’ll say for now is things are better than what they were. 

Solar Victoria1 currently has two incentives2 to encourage people to get rooftop solar panels: 

  • A solar subsidy equal to half the cost of a system up to a maximum of $1,850.  
  • An interest-free loan equal to the subsidy amount that is repaid over 4 years.  

This means that homeowners and landlords who meet the requirements can save up to $1,850 on the cost of a solar system they put on a rental property and get an interest free loan of $1,850. 

I am going to restate what this means in a very simple way and it’s going to seem like I am belabouring the point, but I feel as though I have to put it very simply to get it through Solar Victoria’s virtual skull.

If a homeowner gets the maximum subsidy of $1,850 and the $1,850 interest-free loan, then what they will have to pay upfront will be reduced by $3,700.  They will have to pay back the $1,850 loan over the next 4 years, but they won’t have to pay back the $1,850 subsidy.  This means they will have saved $1,850 off the total cost.  They will not have saved $3,700 because half of that is a loan that has to be repaid. 

This is pretty straight forward and most people are able to understand it. 

definition of save

The fourth definition that comes up if you google the words “define save”.  (Image:  Google — duh!)

Even I get it and I was educated in Wonwoomba.3  But it must be too hard for Solar Victoria, because this is what they put up on the internet for all to see:

Victorian solar panel rebate advertising

A “potential upfront saving of up to $3,700” is definitely not what’s on offer.  The maximum saving is $1,850.  What Solar Victoria has written above is misleading and stinks for the following reasons:

  1. People are not going to save up to $3,700 on a system.  They are going to save a maximum of $1,850 because the rest is a loan that has to be repaid.  If money has to be repaid it’s not a saving. 
  2. Calling it an “upfront saving” does not make this okay.  That would mean people would immediately save $3,700 and not have to pay any back.
  3. For some reason, Solar Victoria is trying to rope in more people in with misleading information.  This is nuts because you don’t need to use a rope when you’re giving money away.   

Unfortunately, the above image was not a one-off mistake caused by overindulging in the Friday afternoon cocktails all Australian public servants are issued.  (Or was that only at my primary school in Wonwoomba?).   Evidence that Solar Victoria don’t math or finance good is all over their Facebook pages:

More Victorian solar panel rebate advertising

This Is A Serious Problem

You might think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill…

…but this is serious stuff.  While we’re used to politicians doing idiotic things ranging from eating a raw onion to swimming down a shark’s gullet, we expect the enforcers of the rules to act with the utmost integrity and there’s no excuse for what Solar Victoria has done.  

Solar Victoria is giving away free money for solar panels and providing interest-free loans.  They have nothing to gain from fooling people into accepting free money.  All they are going to do is disappoint the people who will find out they can only save a maximum of $1,850 off a solar power system, and potentially cause real problems for those who make the mistake of taking a government organization at their word.

Many Victorian homeowners — and especially landlords — were born overseas and have English as a second language.  This creates a communication barrier that Solar Victoria is making worse by their choice of language.  I’m sure they’re not intending to discriminate against non-native speakers, but it is the result.  Trust me on this, I know what I am talking about.  My own father speaks English as a second language and he once said to me…

“The other day I got up in the middle of the night and made some sausage rolls.  They were all the same length except some were longer than others.”

When I started laughing at him, he got mad and said…

“You think I’m stupid, don’t you?  You think I’m a stupid Dutchman who knows fucking nothing, but the truth is I know fuck all!”

Solar Victoria Insists On Standards They Don’t Adhere To

Their conduct is made all the more galling by the fact installers permitted to make use of the state’s solar subsidies are prohibited from using this kind of misleading language by a code of conduct Solar Victoria doesn’t appear to follow.

Solar Victoria insists installers must be members of the Clean Energy Council Approved Retailer scheme and they are all required to follow the Approved Solar Retailer Code of Conduct.  The most relevant part is 2.1.1, sections (a) and (f): 

Approved Solar Retailer code of conduct - advertising and promotions

I find it unacceptable that they’re not doing (a) for their own state scheme, while on top of that they are also being (f)ing misleading.

Footnotes

  1. Solar Victoria is a portfolio entity within the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning and in charge of administering the assistance, the Victorian State Government gives residential and rental solar.
  2. There is also a separate $1,000 incentive to install solar hot water or a heat pump hot water system, but isn’t available for households that get the larger rooftop solar PV subsidy.
  3. It used to be called Wonwoomba, but after I broke the town they had to upgrade it to the next version, so now it’s called Toowoomba.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. You’ve ignored the word “upfront”.

    Anyone who reads the top line of an advert and doesn’t read the smaller print in the advert is crazy.

    It is clear that part of the upfront saving is a loan.

    The beauty is that you hopefully pay off part or all of the loan from savings on electricity over the 4 years.

    You’ve over egged your criticism.

    • Hi Paul,

      Please consider reading the post before commenting – it would save us having to answer points that have already been addressed in a well thought out blog post.

      Specifically, the part where Ronald explains why prefixing the word ‘savings’ with ‘upfront’ does not change the dictionary definition of ‘savings’.

      Finn

  2. “…when a state government engages in misleading ads it’s fine and I don’t mind at all…”

    Then you’ll be _highly_ amused by the latest offerings coughed up for WA, Ron!

    Seriously, if renewable policies here were abysmal, they’re now environmentally irresponsible. Coal, gas and uranium extractors thrive in this sorry state.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Yes, I saw that this morning. Suffice to say, I am writing about it. I will not rest until it is done! Now excuse me while I take a nap.

  3. I thought you were Belgian, not Dutch?

    Are you aware of the WA state government’s disincentive for domestic rooftop photovoltaic systems, with no warning?

    The article – at
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-31/wa-solar-subsidy-overhaul-to-avoid-grid-overload/12608036
    appeared this morning – the day it is to take effect (despite the misrepresentation about when it was published, by the ABC – bodgy is Australian), to show that, in WA, anyone who either gets a new solar system installed, or, any work done on their existing solar system, will be punished.

    WA is the only state/territory of which I am aware, where the government does not provide financial support for domestic rooftop photovoltaic systems with batteries.

    And, the problem of the ageing, fragile, decomposing, SWIS electricity grid in WA, could easily be reduced, by the state government offering its householders, no deposit, no charge, interest free loans over up to ten years, to install and/or upgrade domestic rooftop photovoltaic systems that include batteries, to reduce the demand and supply peaks and troughs, to protect the fragile, decomposing, grid.

    But, then, we DO have an ALP state government – the party run by the uranium and coal miners, FOR the uranium and coal miners.

    So, at least, the Victorians have a state government (even if it is also ALP; it is probably a faction that is more concerned for its people) that is more inclined toward supporting clean energy, and, that does offer financial support for domestic rooftop photovoltaic systems.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Dutch, Belgium, it’s all the same — evil I tells ya!

      https://youtu.be/lTJj4wbmAhk?t=36

      And yes, I have seen the amazing 3 cent feed-in tariff new solar will be getting for most of the day in WA. It looks like rooftop solar will be contributing even more to filling in the WA electricity money hole.

    • Bret: “…the Victorians have a state government (even if it is also ALP; it is probably a faction that is more concerned for its people) that is more inclined toward supporting clean energy, and, that does offer financial support for domestic rooftop photovoltaic systems…”

      Precisely. WA has now become the most backward state in Australia. Our ‘leader’s zest for short-term gain clouds any vision he might have had for WA. Examination of _any_ of his energy proposals demonstrates an utter disregard for the environment. Even closer examination shows financial gain for the state’s electricity monopoly, at the expense of West Australians.

      Zero consultation. Aggressively opposed to any other view. Dense.

  4. Joseph King says

    I applied for the interest free loan when I was getting my panels sorted out and I was emailed that I was approved. They had the bank details for the monthly withdrawal but that was the end of the story. I was told the installer would get the subsidy once the install had been given the once over and approved but the interest free loan never showed up. Must double check that the $38.xx per month is not being taken out of the account.

    I have a fairly serious injury and as a result have to consume some very serious opiates to help manage the pain. What has this to do with solar panels you ask well…..one of the side effect is a short term memory issue. So when I had the panels installed I don’t actually remember what was said about getting the Feed in Tariff once the children were pouring lots of their creations into the grid. The only thing I can sort of remember was that once it was all approved then the FiT would be applied to my bill. That seems to make sense but we also have one of those smart (not so effing smart) meters. One would think if you were feeding power into the grid then the usage number would sort of wind backwards (that is what my drug induced mind thought was reasonable) but no, it ain’t.

    Since the panels were installed they have generated just over 2mWh (or is it Mwh. The phone app is fairly crap with the lettering IMO) and NONE of that generated has been applied to the bill. Getting answers from Simply has been not pleasant apart from the high speed patter from the salesman trying to get you to re-enlist with them. I have now been offered a rate of 10.4 cent per kWh which seems insulting since the pricks are charging me 42.4 cent/kWh for the first 1012kWh and 44.4 after that. I didn’t get panels to make money but I also didn’t get them so the power companies could make profits from my generations.

    I am in Melbourne so anyone got suggestions for a provider that treats you with a mediocrity of decency? Thanks. (Sorry, I have wandered well off my intended path. Thanks bloody painkillers. 🙁 )

    • Hi,

      The Smart meter should be cycling through various readings. Mine goes Date>time>import>export (IIRC. We’re not home so I can’t check). Anything you’ve exported should be displayed. Your meter may require button pressing to get it to display. Mine’s an iCredit 500, I thInk. Once you’ve seen that you have been exporting, contact your retailer. It took me over year with Origin before my bills were correct. I had been taking meter readings each quarter as insurance. I refused to pay during that time, in the end I was in credit.

      One other thing, it’s unlikely, but you may be using all of your solar production, and that’s why it doesn’t show an export. Your solar is used first, any excess is exported.

      dRdoS7

  5. Mick Metcalfe says

    Joseph King, You really need to get on the Victorian energy compare website and find a better deal, I went through there and currently pay 26.05 C/Kwh peak and 12.33 C/Kwh off peak.

    You are paying way too much for your power. Try Tango if you can get them in Melbourne.

  6. It IS a saving of $3700 if a home owner installs a solar system that they otherwise would not install – and save $1,850 off their power bills over the next 4 years. ie. The saving in power bills effectively pays back the loan. Sorry Ronald – I agree with most of what you say but I think you owe the Victorian Govt an apology on this one.

    • John, the maths just doesn’t work in your favor. In order for someone to save money, they need to “not spend it” – not now, and not later. If you get given something now, and don’t need to pay for it till later, it is called a loan.
      When I go and buy a $40,000 car, and the dealer gives me credit as long as I pay $2000 deposit, I haven’t just saved $38,000 on the car (and there would be an uproar if it was advertised that way). I will need to pay the money back. Just because I’m using the car as an Uber taxi, and earning revenue I otherwise wouldn’t have received, doesn’t change the fact I still have to pay the loan back.
      By accepting the Solar loan, for $1850, the new solar system owner is reducing the future savings he will be able to make. You say the savings on his power bill will pay back the loan, so it isn’t coming out of his pocket, yet if he didn’t have a loan to repay, he would be able to keep _all_ of his savings.
      So, I’m not saying the interest free loan is a bad idea – it’s not, but it is wrong to advertise it as a “saving”.

  7. Susannah Birch says

    I agree the double standards are appalling, but as a woman who went to high school in Toowoomba, I’m curious to know; what do you think the correct way to advertise this would be?

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