Prime minister criticised for misleading solar PV remarks

19th Sep 2012

Recent comments made by prime minister Julia Gillard regarding solar PV penetration have been slammed as disconcertingly vague and misleading by an industry commentator.

Now, while this may not be the first time a politician has been accused of wishy-washy remarks as they stand from their soapbox, it would appear that this time there is some evidence to support the claims.

Tristan Edis, editor of Climate Spectator, highlighted a speech made by Prime Minister Gillard to delegates at the Energy Policy Institute of Australia last month – saying it was riddled with errors, misinformation and showed a lack of clarity.

During the speech, Gillard said: "While wealthier households can cut power costs through more efficient devices and solar panels, the poorest customers are exposed to the full cost of the increases."

Tristan disagrees. According to him, the quote can be taken in a "myriad of ways", with the prime minister failing to provide the detail necessary to make it a valid claim.

He stated: "Wealthier than what precisely? Is this those households with incomes towards the top 20 per cent of Australian households? And in terms of the poorest customers – are we talking the bottom ten per cent, bottom five per cent, or perhaps even the bottom half of the population?"

Not only is this vague, Edis explained, but evidence suggests it is also untrue – regardless of the parameters.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently revealed that income is not a defining factor when it comes to solar power popularity.

According to the organisation, which compiled figures from households in Victoria, the main contributing issues when considering solar energy systems are a property's location, whether it is owner-occupied and how old it is.

And Tristan quoted data of his own, borrowed from the REC Agents Association, which showed similar results – with the bulk of solar PV distributed in rural areas, where residents have a lower-than-average income.

Why is this? Well, he believes it's because there are more detached houses in the countryside (ergo, there are more unobstructed roofs on which to put solar PV panels).

The expert also pointed to a higher density of owner-occupied housing (because land is often cheaper), with residents having more control over their own energy decisions.

He finished by urging the prime minister to tackle the real problems facing the solar PV industry, rather than making "sweeping, poorly researched statements" about the technology's affordability.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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