Australia shapes up FiT policies: national gross system on the horizon? (Updated)

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As we progress further into what will soon be 2010 – ‘the year solar PV will take off’, more changes are being made in the world of photovoltaics in Australia. This country has seen many changes to its renewable situation during 2009, with new feed-in tariffs announced, improved and tweaked as the continent moves towards its goal of a nationwide gross feed-in tariff scheme.

Many changes are expected to come out of the climate change talks in Copenhagen over the next week. However, adding to the long list of those that already have, South Australian Premier Mike Rann has announced the mandatory ruling that all new and substantially refurbished government and government-operated residential buildings will have to utilize solar panels in some way.

Energy Matters reports that this declaration will take effect as of July 1st 2010. The scheme stipulates that each government-owned and -operated residential building will have a minimum of 1.5kW of solar panels installed, while all other new government buildings will have a minimum of 5kW. Premier Rann has also said that the South Australian government has increased its state target for renewable energy generation to 33% by 2020. This is 13% higher than the national RET (renewable energy target) of 20% to be achieved by the same date. 
 
In order to reach this target, there needs to be a significant amount of financial stimulus. In response to this, Premier Rann announced that as of July 2010, investors would benefit from payroll tax rebates of up to AUS$5 million for large solar farms.
 
Throughout 2009 Australia’s states have been battling it out for the best solar policy, yet they are all essentially working towards a RET and the idealized goal of a national gross feed-in tariff scheme.

The first state to announce a competitive rate was the ACT. The state’s Government implemented what was at the time the nation’s most generous feed-in tariff for solar power in March 2009. This rate is currently set from 50.05c/kWh up to 10kW capacity and 40.04c/kWh up to 30kW capacity. This was the first of Australia’s states to announce a gross FiT system.
 
Soon enough however, NSW was granted its own gross FiT scheme, coupled with its Solar Bonus Scheme, which pays 60c/kWh. Other states were not long to follow with this pattern of success. Even Victoria’s net feed-in tariff, which was at first written off as a disappointment, has actually gained a fair amount of momentum due to strong market forces.      
 
While Australia is slowly modifying its state segmented solar schemes to match the ever-growing market, it is still unclear whether or not these recent announcements from Rann will push South Australia to switch to a gross FiT scheme in the move towards a nation-wide gross scheme.

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Since I blogged with hope of a national gross feed-in tariff for Australia yesterday, Tasmania has come out and dashed this possibility. In a letter sent to Apollo Energy, a division of national solar solutions provider Energy Matters, Minister Llewellyn states that the low net FiT rate currently in place will remain.

In the letter, Minister Llewellyn outlines the following standpoint:

“For much of 2009 the Government has been listening to arguments for and against mandating premium feed in tariffs for any electricity fed into the grid by small, residential based renewable generators, such as rooftop photovoltaic panels.
   
Having listened to the arguments and taken heed of the policy principles for feed-in-tariff recently agreed by the Council of Australian Government, the Government has decided that it is not fair or sensible to force other people to pay more than a fair and reasonable price for such electricity.
   
We are satisfied that Aurora Energy’s current policy of paying the full retail price for any electricity that is supplied back to the grid is fair and reasonable in the Tasmanian context.
   
The Government will therefore mandate that a feed-in tariff will be provided in a manner that is consistent with the agreed national principles for feed-in tariff schemes.
   
It will be a net metering scheme with the tariff to be paid at a fair and reasonable rate.
   
On mainland Tasmania a fair and reasonable rate will be taken to be a rate equivalent to the unit price within the relevant retail tariff. For most households, that will be tariff 31, which at present is 19.363c/kWh.”
   
This decision will certainly put a spanner in the works for the dream of a nationalized gross tariff, as well as disappointing all the solar supporters in the state.

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