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Queensland opens rooftop solar market to low-income and rental households

25 October, 2017

Queensland’s Labor government has unveiled a suite of new policies that will open the way for thousands more homes in the Sunshine State – including the largely untapped rental market – to gain access to rooftop solar and battery storage and cut their electricity bills.

The new policies, launched on Tuesday as part of the Palaszczuk government’s $2 billion Affordable Energy Plan, will offer no-interest loans to consumers wishing to invest in rooftop solar and battery storage, but lacking the up-front capital to do so.

They will also work to give landlords and renters equal access to solar, through a trial initially involving 1000 rental households. Queensland energy minister Mark Bailey said the rental solar scheme had the potential to save tenants up to 10 per cent off their annual bill, or up to $150 a year, while landlords could get a rebate of up to $520 per year.

“Under this trial program we will offer financial incentives to landlords to install solar systems and pass on savings to their tenants,” Bailey said. “(It) will embrace the falling costs of solar technology and offer clean energy to renters – which has been an inaccessible market segment.”

Bailey said the energy loan scheme would open to Queenslanders from March 2018 – two months ahead of the May deadline for the upcoming state election – giving them access to savings of up to $700 a year, should they chose to install solar.

“Solar panels and batteries are a great way for households and small businesses to cut their electricity bills, but for some the upfront cost can be a challenge,” said Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt, who helped launch the new policies on Tuesday.

“It will also help in supporting to kick start the growth of the battery industry in Queensland.”

Both the solar loan and rental schemes are expected to help the Palaszczuk government to reach its 2020 target of 1 million solar rooftops, or 3,000 megawatts (3GW) of installed capacity. Currently, they sit at around 1.8GW, which makes combined solar installations bigger by capacity than the state’s biggest coal plant, the 1780MW Gladstone Power Station.

They also represent another major push by Queensland Labor to help the state’s households reduce their energy bills, as summer and the 2018 election approaches. The key plank of this push has been a $300 million “rebate” aimed at cutting home and small business electricity bills starting in January 2018.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the power bill rebate scheme would equate to 1.9 million households receiving a rebate of $50 each year for the next two years. They would also be able to apply for a $300 rebate to buy energy-efficient appliances.

For manufacturers and other large energy consumers, energy audits are being made available, with a 50 per cent co-contribution to implement the resulting recommendations, worth up to $250,000 per customer. This measure is expected to deliver savings of between 10-40 per cent for large industrial customers, the government said.

Queensland’s power prices, and its ambitious uptake of renewables, have been a major focal point of both state and federal politics over the past two years. In particular, the state’s 50 per cent by 2030 renewable energy target has been pilloried by the Turnbull government as “nuts” and as the major cause of high electricity prices.

“It’s nuts … because it means people under this system will have to pay more and it would probably mean they would be subsidising emissions reduction in NSW,” federal Treasurer Scott Morrison told ABC Radio last week.

“I think it’s a muppet of a proposal.”

But Queensland’s Bailey was quick to fire back, describing the Coaltion’s latest attempt at a federal policy – the National Energy Guarantee – as a “ham-fisted mess-up,” and reiterating the state’s commitment to its renewables target.

In other measures, the Queensland Plan will also remove a restriction on regional electricity customers going back to Ergon Energy – a move Pitt said would improve their access to solar panels and household storage batteries, while giving them a broader range of retailers to choose from.

“The Palaszczuk government is removing Ergon’s ‘non-reversion’ policy,” the Treasurer said. “We recognise the desire of regional customers to have more choice of electricity retailers, so we will amend the current policy that prevents customers who switch away from Ergon Retail from returning.

“Removing the policy will give regional customers more choice and control over their energy bills which is good news for electricity bill savings in regional areas.

“It will also free up customers to return to Ergon Retail to take up the $75 Easy Pay Reward,” he added – 200,000 regional households are expected to take up this offer.

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