The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) organised a “save solar” rally in Newcastle on June 6. The rally was at the office of Liberal MLA Tim Owen and was the latest in a string of protests calling for planned retrospective cuts to NSW’s solar bonus scheme to be abandoned.
The rally attracted about 250 people and included many solar industry workers.
SEIA representative Chanti Richardson chaired the rally and introduced Solar Newcastle (SN) director Adam Dalby.
Dalby said that sales of panels by SN had all but evaporated since the new NSW Coalition government cut the “solar bonus” feed in tariff scheme.
He said that the media needed to stop listening to politicians who were scapegoating the solar bonus scheme for rises in the cost of electricity and do some investigation of their own.
If they did so, Dalby said they would find that the main reason for power price rises is NSW’s ageing fleet of coal-fired power stations and the maintainance of the grid that carries power from these centralised plants across the state.
He said that people who installed panels should receive payment from the power companies at the same rate that those companies were retailing electricity to other households. At the moment, in the absence of any feed in tariff, power retailers will profit from surplus power generated by any new solar panels.
Solar panel owner Barbara Rae from the Newcastle suburb of Mayfield, told the crowd that she and her husband had taken out an $18,000 loan to get a 4.2 kilowatt solar panel system.
Rae said she felt “sick” when the state government announced it would be retrospectively cutting the feed-in tariff for eligible recipients such as herself from 60c per kW/h down to 40c.
Duncan Jinks from Climate Action Newcastle said the attack on the fledgling solar industry was a backward step for climate action.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge also addressed the rally. He said the Coalition government’s estimates regarding the output of the 355 megawatts of installed panels (and thus the cost of the scheme) were way out.
The Liberal member for Newcastle, Tim Owen, addressed the crowd at the end. He defended the government’s solar industry policy.
Owen received a grilling from the crowd, who demanded that he “cross the floor” and oppose the cuts.
The day after the rally, the O’Farrell government announced it would abandon its plans to retrospectively cut the feed in tarriff rate.
Owen hailed the decision as “a victory for commonsense” despite having defended the cuts the previous day.
The Sydney Morning Herald said June 7 also marked the day that rooftop solar company Clear Solar went into receivership, with forty jobs lost.
A steep cut in business stemming from the weakening (and then axing) of the feed in tariff was cited as the main reason the business went under.