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More budget woes for WA solar scheme

29th Dec 2011

The Western Australia government continues to face challenges with its solar panel rebate scheme, after a mid-year economic review by the state treasurer saw additional funds allocated due to the initiative running over budget.

At least $46 million has been set aside in additional funds over the next three years, despite a cap being placed on the program earlier this year.

The estimated cost of the scheme was to be $28.2 million, but increasing popularity and material costs caused this to rise almost $120 million - now with mid-year review, this cost has reached $180 million.

While the state government will pay for the majority of the excess costs, energy provider Synergy will also contribute $20 million.

The popularity of the feed-in tariff scheme - which was introduced in 2009 - has far exceeded the Barnett government's expectations, with more than 76,000 households signing up.

Originally offering a rebate of 40 cents per kilowatt hour to households feeding the energy produced by their rooftop solar panel systems back into the grid, a cap of 150 megawatts was forced to be implemented on June 30, while the rebate was also halved to 20 cents.

Treasurer Christian Porter has ordered an audit into the scheme to determine whether any of the applications received between May 21 - when the cap was announced - and June 30 were incorrectly approved.

"The suspicion that we have in Treasury is that there are applications that said they met the requirements, but didn't," he told WA Today (December 29).

"There's been a cost overrun, there clearly has been ... but the money is not wasted, the money has been spent delivering clean electricity and incentivising the product of photovoltaics."

The news comes at a time when an increasing number of households in Western Australia are struggling to pay for electricity.

It was revealed last month that more than 50 residents each day applied for assistance from the government through the Hardship Utility Grant Scheme (HUGS).

The HUGS incentive saw more than 8,100 customers credited with up to 85 per cent of their utility bill in the 2010-11 financial year.

Electricity prices in WA have experienced an increase of 57 per cent since 2009.

Posted by Bob Dawson - News editor

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