Australian utility targets solar users with AU$500 daily charge for meter readings

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Businesses in Queensland, Australia are set to face a steep hike in electricity service charges of up to AU$500 for every day they demand power, as a result, the solar industry has accused the changes of being an attempt to halt solar installations.

According to the Queensland Government Gazette, published 18 July utility Ergon Energy has changed its tariffs for businesses that are on a ‘demand’ only tariff. The demand tariff is for electricity from the grid, only when it is demanded, such as when solar users need a boost from the grid, opposed to the ‘general’ and continuous wholesale energy supply tariff.

Under tariffs for residential, commercial and rural applications, businesses using more than 100MWh per year on large demand, are now to pay a ‘Service Fee per metering point per day’ of AU$488.36. Including the General Service Charge (GST), the price is AU$537.19 a day.

According to local news RenewEconomythe previous price for this bracket, was AU$42 a day.

For small business demand the cost is now AU$51 per day, and for medium business demand, the cost is AU$168 per day.

Steve Madson, director of Country Solar, one of the country’s largest installers of commercial-scale solar, told RenewEconomy the new service charges will halt large businesses from installing solar and energy efficiency measures because of the new high service charges.

“How can they charge AU$500 a day to read the meter,” Madson said.

The meter reading hike is part of many changes by the government price regulation, the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA). New electricity prices were brought into force 1 July; many of the changes have been accused of targeting solar.

The Carbon Tax was repealed on the 17 July. With the tax no longer a factor in 2014-15 carbon-fuelled electricity prices fell. Previously Queensland’s ‘Solar Bonus Scheme’ was set at AU$0.08 per kWh with solar more valuable as a means to avoid the carbon tax. With the tax repealed, the value of solar energy decreased to a tariff of AU$0.0653.

A QCA factsheet on the changes proposed as of the 1 July states:

“Queensland’s Solar Bonus Scheme is the next major cost driver. The scheme pays generous feed-in tariffs to residential customers who sell electricity back into the grid from their solar panels”.

QCA also said the change in a typical residential bill will go up by AU$54 because of solar related costs, compared to AU$72 for wholesale (nuclear or fossil fuel) energy generation.

The average residential bill is made up of 21% costs for wholesale energy and 7% for solar, with ‘network’ costs at 47% – many ‘network’ costs have “while ‘poles and wires’ no longer account for the largest increase in costs, network charges will still add AU$38 to the typical residential bill”, said Roberts.

Australia also recently became home to a pilot energy storage project, with an antenna tower, serving a broadcaster, to be the site of a solar-plus-storage project funded by the German government and designed to deliver power 24 hours a day.

Australia ended last year with over 1.6 million PV systems installed on rooftops, representing almost 3.1GW cumulative capacity of rooftop solar power installed across the country.

Australia has also recently made headlines for putting business above climate protection.

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