Review of the Solar Energy Program and Feed-in Tariff
Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I agree that the member for Windermere's motion has some merit. With Tasmania's reliance on the rest of Australia it is very important that we at least try to stand on our own two feet where we can, and to that end encourage our residents to do the same. Tasmania's obvious advantage is our clean, green image, with our hydro electric power generation contributing to that. Tasmania has only one power producer, which has diversified from mainly hydro electric into solar, wind, geothermal and wave energy. They do have an electricity buyback scheme where producers, both residential and business, can sell back their excess energy. However, for consumers this is becoming less viable.
By far the biggest problem with the government policy is that it has now set a very low feed-in tariff, which could be justified by them mainly by reference to mainland determinations, but it takes no account of the different circumstances in Tasmania.
Tasmania is unique in that our Hydro system makes it easy to use less water when solar power is being generated, and to use more water when demand peaks. This means that solar energy directly adds value to the battery of our water storages, allowing peak demand to be met easily and also allowing more energy to be exported to the mainland at times of maximum crisis - and that is of direct financial benefit to the state. The Government could argue that the value of exported solar power should be no greater than the market value of the exported energy to the retailer, exclusively rejecting any recognition of the broader economic benefits of the state and the other benefits to the solar industry, such as generating employment and addressing climate change.
The Member for Windermere has mentioned how much employment has been lost, particularly in the northern area, with regard to solar energy and distributors. Because of our climate, and because many older buildings with lower energy efficiency standards use more power than similar homes in other parts of Australia, Tasmanian homes have in many cases a higher reliance on electric energy, particularly for heating.
I am sure many remember the wood heater buyback scheme in the north whereby money was provided to remove wood heaters because of the air quality in the Tamar Valley, but most were replaced with electric heating. The member for Windermere might be able to confirm this but I believe that in most Housing Tasmania homes they replaced wood heaters with electric heating, irrespective of whether tenants could afford to run them.
We have a huge reliance on electric energy. I know of a large number of people who invested heavily in solar panels to remove their reliance on Aurora, some of whom purchased the large battery banks which were mentioned by the member for Rumney which gives them their own power supply. For these people the investment was long-term as they saw a saving year by year, as well as contributing to a cleaner Tasmania. I went to a seminar recently where the price of those battery banks was quoted at around $30 000. I know they will come down but how many people on solar now could afford to put in a battery bank? It was the size of a fridge. Not only do you have to be able to afford to buy it but you have to have somewhere you can put it. I am sure they will become smaller as time goes by but it is difficult for the average Tasmanian.
In many cases, electricity exported by solar households will be used by neighbouring households, very close to the point where it is generated, thus avoiding transmission and distribution costs. Retailers paying the low feed-in tariff for this electricity will be immediately reselling it for considerably more. Unfortunately, the solar industry is not alone and people are being encouraged to opt in with the hope that one day the system will not only pay itself off but save money and also contribute to the well being of our state. Natural gas is, unfortunately, now travelling a similar path with concerns that it will triple in price shortly.
Tasmania is unique and we are fortunate that our state can generate clean energy, but to keep that advantage we must look to solar power. We must encourage, not discourage, people from going down this path. It will take all of us to ensure that our island remains the best and cleanest place on the earth to live. I support the member for Windermere in calling on the state Government to review the solar energy program and feed-in tariff so that it will promote the installation of solar energy panels and provide a level of return that is both reasonable and fair to both the home owner and the energy provider. I support the motion.