Queensland government accused of ‘discriminating’ against solar consumers

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An Australian advocacy group has accused Queensland’s premier, Campbell Newman, and energy minister, Mark McArdle, of unfairly charging new penalties on solar homes

In a letter to the ministers, Solar Citizens, set up only last month, is asking the state government to address a number of critical questions on allegedly misleading statements made by the politicians on the impact of solar on energy costs in Queensland.

According to local press reports cited by Solar Citizens, the state government is poised to implement recommendations made earlier in the year by the Queensland Competition Authority that solar owners be put on a higher service fee tariff because they use less power. The government commissioned the QCA to look at the state feed-in tariff following concerns over its rising costs.

But Solar Citizens maintains that the QCA's recommendations are “flawed” and that by adopting them, the state government would be running against its own policies.

In its letter the group said the Queensland Competition Authority's recommendations of a solar penalty were “deliberately discriminating” against families and small businesses, penalising them for having invested in rooftop solar. 

“As the government prepares to increase the cost of electricity for Queenslanders, they are ignoring the true solution for cheaper bills – solar and renewable energies, as well as cutting energy usage. These are cost effective measures that allow people to take control of their bills and of their energy use,” Geoff Evans, campaign manager for Solar Citizens, said.

And Evans said that implementing this increase would be inconsistent with McArdle’s own policies.

“In December of just last year, Mr McArdle said that there would be no fixed charge of any sort on people using solar,” he said. “However, now it appears that the minister is going back on his word, preparing to advise Cabinet to put a tariff on solar users only. This is nothing short of discrimination against families who have moved to solar to reduce their costs.

“There are over 300,000 solar users in Queensland, who have invested over A$2.2 billion of their own money into reducing their electricity costs and doing their part to help our environment. It appears that the government is looking to penalise them for trying to take energy production back into their own hands. And, they are justifying doing so on the basis of spurious arguments.”

Solar Citizens has highlighted other states in the country where the uptake of solar is being impeded by utilities.

In Victoria, prospective solar owners have been facing a hard time connecting to the grid. In some areas network operators have simply been refusing to connect up new solar systems.

In New South Wales anyone who invests in solar has to negotiate with their retailers to get a price for the power that retailer then sells to their neighbours.

“The situations in Victoria and Queensland highlight the trend we are seeing across the country,” said Evans. “We will soon be working on campaigns with solar owners in every state to make sure all Australian solar owners are ensured a fair go.

“Network operators and energy retailers don’t want to see Australians take back control of the grid. They are making it harder for Aussies to go solar in order to protect their profits.”

Solar Citizens has given the politicians until 19 June to respond as it activates its growing membership on this issue.

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