Thursday, June 26, 2008

Families angry at solar panel tariff system

Article from: 

Olga Galacho
June 27, 2008 12:00am

HOUSEHOLDS with children have been cheated out of payments for electricity produced using solar panels, say a group of "climate-friendly" families.

Childless professionals who use less energy will be the only winners under a state government proposal to limit the payments, known as feed-in tariffs, to small solar energy systems, says Brunswick mother of four Julie Butler.

Ms Butler and husband Brendan Wright had hoped to add to their $7000 rooftop panels.

"I have four kids at home aged two to 19 and we had been spending almost $1000 a year on electricity," Ms Butler said.

"If you don't have children at home and you leave the house to go to work, you can easily limit how much electricity you use.

"But if you are like us, a family that has to feed teenagers and has the washing machine going most days, we don't have the luxury of limiting our consumption."

Conscious of the carbon emissions their household produced, they invested in climate-friendly solar panels.

When the Government hinted it would allow solar panel owners to receive payments for the electricity they generated, the family spent an additional $2000 on an inverter, a device that would let them upgrade their system.

In May, however, the State Government said the tariffs would be paid only for small 2kW systems and only for the excess electricity they contributed to the power grid, rather than the total generated.

The Victorian tariffs would be the least generous of all the states that have them and a shadow of the world's best model in Germany, where owners are paid for all solar power generated, regardless of the size of systems.

Brad Shone, of the Alternative Technology Association, said a quarter of the grid-connected systems in Victoria had more than a 2kW output.

The group, which helps homeowners interested in solar energy, believes extending the feed-in tariff to systems of 10kW would be more consistent with other states.

Mr Shone said: "People with 2.1kW systems would have to remove an entire bank of panels, worth several thousand dollars, and reduce their output by up to a third to be eligible for the payment the Government is proposing."

Preston mother Sally Mendes has had solar panels on her roof for almost a decade and was hoping to be rewarded for "doing the right thing", but her family will also miss out on the tariffs because their system is above 2kW.

She said people who made sacrifices to reduce their carbon footprints had been discriminated against compared with those willing to make only a token gesture.

"My husband and I could have bought a big four-wheel-drive car or taken our seven-year-old son for a holiday overseas, but instead we spent the money on solar panels and now we find out the Government doesn't recognise our efforts. It is very unfair," Ms Mendes said.

Ms Butler's family had thought that the tariffs would help pay for a larger system in less than seven years.

Without them, she said, it would take decades to recover the cost.

"We have been forced to stick with a smaller system to qualify for the payments, but it will still take 15 or 17 years to get our money back and we are still going to have to pay power companies for the electricity the smaller system can't make.

"It is disappointing people are willing to put their money up front to help the environment, but the Government doesn't offer any support for a decent, family-sized system," she said.

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