NSW government to clear path for post feed-in tariff meter replacements

The NSW government will rush through a series of bills next month in the hope of avoiding anticipated bottle-necks and lower charges as nearly 140,000 households in the state seek new metering arrangements at the end of the solar bonus tariff.

The bills are being prepared in response to industry concerns about the potential train crash – highlighted in this report on Tuesday – that could cause lengthy delays, the loss in earnings from rooftop solar, and hefty bills of around $700 for the meter changes.

Chief among the proposed amendments is to lift the restrictions on electricians qualified to change meters.

Currently, only about 1,800 “level 2” electricians in the state are authorised to do the job – and these would be incapable of replacing even 50,000 meters in a year, let alone the 140,000 needed.

NSW proposes to follow the Victorian example and allow other electricians to be trained to perform the task. The process will also be supervised by the office of fair trading, meaning that the bill for labour will be around $25-$30, rather than the $300-$350 anticipated in the previous arrangements.

Another change would put the meter changes in the hands of the retailers. This is a major victory for the retailers, who want to not only seize the responsibility from network operators – their big rivals in a decentralised energy world – but also because it allows them to offer varying tariffs, including time of use offerings.

Meters may still cost around $300-$400, but the retailers are likely to make offers of free meters in turn for signing on customers to longer contracts, seeking to avoid the massive churn that has hit the industry.

However, it is not clear how customers will react to the offer of smart meters, or whether they will chose alternatives, and how they can access them. Many will look to install battery storage, with the Energy Storage Council predicting that 60,000 households could go this route in the first year. But what sort of deal will they get?

It is also yet to be seen what the retailers do in terms of feed-in tariffs. In NSW, there is no compulsory feed-in tariff, although most retailers offer between 5c/kWh to 8c/kWh for exports back to the grid. This compares to the 60c/kWh, plus a retail bonus, that was paid for all the output for many beneficiaries of the solar bonus scheme.

© 2016 Solar Choice Pty Ltd 

Giles Parkinson