Science & Health

Australian Households With Solar Panels Might Pay Extra For Helping Generate Power

In Victoria, households that have installed solar panels on their roofs are facing an increase in the fixed rate they pay on every bill to connect to the state’s electricity grid. An extra 14 cents per day, or $51 per year, is being proposed to punish householders for helping to produce electricity.

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According to RenewEconomy, Simply Energy — an electricity retailer whose parent company operates the Hazelwood coal power plant — wants to raise the fixed supply charge for solar households from 96c/day to 110c/day, with a total yearly cost of just over $400 versus $351 for non-solar houses.

The reasoning behind the higher fixed charges, as given by Victorian energy minister Russell Northe on Twitter, is that energy companies have to bear the cost of transporting energy generated by rooftop solar around the state — so those houses producing enough solar power to meet and exceed their usage are putting extra strain on the grid. “Poles and wires cost money”, according to Northe, but it is not immediately clear why houses producing energy and contributing to the state’s base-line power production should pay more than houses that only consume electricity from the state’s dominant coal and gas-fired power plants.

In Victoria, solar energy company SunPower is pioneering off-grid energy storage, and should imminently announce a pilot project in the state to install solar panels and lithium-ion batteries in homes and businesses. If these higher fixed rates for solar energy-generating customers are approved and passed into legislation, it could prove an impediment to the uptake of solar panels and small-scale energy storage.

Power companies’ attitudes to clean energy production in Australia aren’t completely backwards, though. One state over in South Australia, energy company Trustpower is finishing installation of almost 150 wind turbines to produce enough clean power for nearly 250,000 homes, and CSIRO recently hit a milestone in large-scale solar power production research.

The big news a fortnight ago was that energy prices in Queensland fell below $0 in the middle of the day — power generators were paying businesses and consumers to use power — in part due to the state’s strong 1.1GW of rooftop solar energy installation. Australia has a total of 3.4GW of solar panels installed across the country on 1.2 million premises, some of which are IKEA stores, so Queensland’s piece of the pie is relatively large.

Those customers with rooftop solar are preventing Australian power companies from making a profit, it seems, and in Victoria at least it looks like the companies are taking measures to prevent that happening. [RenewEconomy]

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