Rooftop solar changes unsettle industry, raising fears worse to come

Australia’s peak solar industry body has called for written clarification from the federal government, after confusion surrounding proposed amendments to the Renewable Energy Target triggered concerns that the booming commercial solar market was being wound back.

In a statement to members on Monday afternoon, the Australian Solar Council alleged that a federal Coalition MP had told an ASC member company the Turnbull government was planning to abolish STCs for “commercial solar projects,” sized between 10kW and 100kW.

As the ASC noted in its emailed statement, such a decision “would have profound implications for our members and their businesses,” not to mention for the huge number of businesses trying to cut soaring electricity costs by installing PV panels on their roofs.

By Tuesday lunch time, however, the confusion was clearing up, and the threat to commercial solar being doused by various organisations, including the Clean Energy Council.

The Clean Energy Regulator then released a statement, confirming it was working with the Department of the Environment and Energy on RET regulation amendments, which included a proposed requirement that solar systems between 10-100kW could only participate in the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (and not also the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target).

The proposed amendment “does not impact on small-scale technology certificate eligibility for systems between 10kW and 100kW,” the Regulator said.

The events highlight the state of confusion and anxiety in the solar industry, which despite enjoying its best year ever – in both rooftop and large scale installations – is besieged by rumours of changes to both the nature of the small-scale scheme, and even of the value of the clearing house certificates.

After years of uncertainty and outright attacks on renewable energy policy during the Abbott years, solar’s sangfroid has lately been challenged by the incomprehensible nature of the national policy debate, and the unveiling of modelling by the Energy Security Board, in support of its proposed National Energy Guarantee, that appears to assume, if not call for, a rapid slowdown in the deployment of solar.

“I’m worried because this rings true to me,” ASC CEO John Grimes told RenewEconomy. “What we’ve seen with the announcement of the NEG is a renewed intent to push back renewable energy and to promote incumbent fossil fuels, and particularly coal.

“You can’t blame the industry for being nervous… This is something a senior government back bencher said. Ultimately, (the federal government) need to put out a written statement, and then we will be happy to put this concern behind us,” he said.

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