Australian government at a solar power crossroads

19th Aug 2013

The Australian government, particular in Western Australia (WA), is currently dealing with an unanticipated problem.

While many agree throughout the country that higher adoption of solar power technologies is certainly good for the sustainability of Australia and the reliability of its electricity distribution network, implementation is also coming with added costs the government must now deal with.

ABC recently spoke with one resident who installed solar panels on his roof to get a better understanding of why solar power has proliferated so much in the past few years. To David Wapplington of Karrinyup, the decision to turn his home into a solar generation facility was made simple by the government's generous tax incentives.

The WA government gave him an $8,000 rebate, and he then spent another $16,000 on the system to generate another two kilowatts of power. Under a program that pays residents for any excess power they introduce back into the grid, every kilowatt counts.

"I want to retire and the last thing I want is escalating energy bills so I invested in solar panels," he told the news source.

And Wapplington's story is not unique. This has occurred all over the state, and as the number of solar power installations rises, so is the total value of the rebates the government must award.

Mounting problems

This culminated last week when the WA government announced it would cut the per-kilowatt rebate in half, and shortly recanted this decision.

Although the government changed its decision after only one day, it was still enough time for many groups to start looking into the legal repercussions of going against contracts signed by residents.
Now, the government will need to figure out how to pay for the huge number of solar installations in WA – a number that is growing by the month.

About 13,000 households had installed the technology in 2008. Fast forward to 2013, and this number skyrocketed to more than 1 million households. About 75,000 of these installations occurred in WA.

To prepare for even more installations, Premier Colin Barnett said it was possible that solar power homes may have to pay additional fees, after it was reported that electric utility Synergy could run into financial trouble if this trend continues.

"It's fair to say that electricity consumers, all of us, whether we've got solar panels or not, maybe we should be paying a fixed component for all the infrastructure, particularly the power line system," he said.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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