Western Australia government backs away from retroactive solar subsidy cuts

In a sudden backflip spurred by a flood of phone calls and emails, the WA government has elected to reverse its decision to retroactively reduce the solar feed-in tariff incentive for tens of thousands of households with solar PV systems installed on their roofs. The turnaround took only a weekend, with Premier Barnett stating that the government ‘got this decision wrong’ and that the proposed changes would not be implemented. If put into effect, the changes would have halved solar feed-in tariff rates for anyone receiving the 40c per kilowatt-hour rate in order to save money in the state budget.

In addition to being a relief for many solar system owners across WA (in particular those who bought systems when incentives were higher in order to match the higher installation prices of the time), it also offers reassurance to those receiving incentives elsewhere in the country that governments will not be able to overturn their commitments lightly.

Moreover, the speed of the reversal is testament to the growing political clout of solar system owners and renewable energy advocates. When a similar measure was introduced in NSW in May of 2011, it took over 2 weeks for the the government to drop the plan.

In successfully pressuring the government to change its decision, as Nigel Morris of Solar Business Services noted, renewable energy campaigners have “successfully demonstrated that Governments will be held accountable for their promises”, proving “for the second time (as we did in New South Wales) that solar [system owners] expect to be treated with respect and to have the Rule of Law upheld.”

The short time it took for the WA government to realise its error is no doubt attributable in great part to the political organising work of 100% Renewable Energy and Solar Citizens, who have been labouring tirelessly to unite the voices of renewable energy advocates and the nation’s cohort of solar system owners into a discernible political constituency. Close to 9,000 solar system owners signed Solar Citizens’ petition protesting the government’s decision.

Solar Citizens’ Dr Geoff Evans welcomed WA’s move to reverse the cuts, saying that he and the thousands of solar system owners in WA were ‘glad to hear’ the news. However, he was not without criticism for the initial decision. “It was absurd to think that a Government program could be reneged on without any repercussions,” he said. “Barnett, and all Australian Governments and political parties, should take this lesson: solar owners are not just lovers of solar power. They are voters who bite back when threatened by bad policy. And, through Solar Citizens, they are able to mobilise and have their voices heard.”

Mr Barnett’s comments about the decision hint at how widespread system ownership has influenced public views on renewable energy by bringing the issue closer to home. “We have listened, and we appreciate the commitment that many people have made to take up renewable energy, like solar power.” Although the decision to go solar is for many system owners primarily a financial one, most also understand that by installing a system they are part of the clean energy transition that is currently underway in Australia, and that investing in solar is one small step towards greening up Australia’s energy supply. Over 1 million households now have solar systems installed, collectively comprising a massive, distributed ‘Peoples’ Power Station’, as Mr Morris puts it.

Those households who signed up on the 40c/kWh rate initially offered by the WA government did so when solar system prices were significantly higher than they are now, and hence required a greater incentive to make them investment-worthy. Although such generous incentives are no longer in place for new solar system owners, solar panels are still considered to be worth the investment for the right homes and businesses across the country.

© 2013 Solar Choice Pty Ltd 

James Martin II