The Tongans know a bad solar deal when they see one

3rd Sep 2013

There's plenty of talk in Australia about how the government is using solar power as a thinly veiled attempt to indulge the whims of the Greens and eco-minded residents, but that's also part of the problem.

It's just talk.

Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the Tongan civil society groups who are lambasting their government and calling officials out for failing to make good on a promise.

It all started when the government told residents on the country's largest island, Tongatapu, that after building a solar power farm, lower electricity rates would be felt by all. So far, this has been nothing but a pipedream.

The solar panels are in and the facility has been generating power for months, but residents are still waiting for the lower electricity rates they were promised.

Sound familiar?

"They (the government) have promised it's going to go down but it doesn't seem to be that way," Pelenatita Kara, the Civil Society Forum spokeswoman, told Pacific Beat.

To make matters worse, the Aussie government has been peculiarly silent on why exactly the Tongans are still paying high electricity rates.

"There hasn't been an official statement on why these things have not been done," Ms Kara added.

A noble goal, but little support

Let's give the Tongans a hand for trying, though. Back in 2010, the country's government announced it hoped to significantly lower its dependence on foreign power.

This, combined with one of the most ambitious renewable energy goals anywhere in the world – 50 per cent by 2020 – was a clear indication that Tonga saw major potential in solar power.

The problem, Ms Kara said, is that the solar panels are not generating enough electricity to increase supply enough for prices to come down.

There are similar gripes in Australia, but you likely won't hear about them in the media, while government releases will often spin the message so it's a little more pleasing to the ear. But that can't hide that fact that even residents who install rooftop solar panels aren't seeing the savings they'd expect.

Basically, the cost of receiving power from utilities, which have undoubtedly been snuggling up close to government officials, has risen to make up for the losses these companies have incurred because of solar feed-in tariffs and other incentives.

In the end, the utilities still take home the big bucks, and eco- and business-minded residents are left with still-rising energy bills.

Posted by Bob Dawson

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