You know the story about how Maui slowed down the sun? Have you heard the modern tale about the electricity industry trying to slow down solar?
Kiwis are going solar in record numbers to escape rising power bills and get a degree of energy freedom, but the electricity industry is responding and using a host of tactics to try and discourage them. The industry’s latest tool is a new charge on solar, which the National Government’s Electricity Authority just gave the green light to.
Unison – the Hawke’s Bay, Taupō, and Rotorua’s electricity distribution monopoly – introduced a new charge for its customers with solar panels, which was promptly labelled a ‘solar tax.’ Unison argued it needed a new way to recoup costs as more and more of its customers produced their own power, but there’s some big flaws with it. Yesterday the Electricity Authority (EA) said criticised it as “not as clearly service-based and cost-reflective as it could be”, and not offering “sufficient choices to consumers” But the EA ruled it didn’t breach the Electricity Code. In response, the solar industry said the “electricity system is broken,” and I agree.
Basically, the EA slapped Unison on the wrist with a wet bus ticket and, to paraphrase, said: it’s not the way to go but who are we to stop them?
My fear is this decision will act as a dangerous precedent, encouraging other lines companies to introduce their own solar charges. Let’s be clear, this new solar charge is a blunt tool that is unfair, arbitrary, and discriminatory. It targets one particular technology and ignores the actual demand/supply issues which, with smart meters, can be managed much more appropriately.
Unison themselves say it doesn’t cover their costs. So Unison has basically blindly thrown a dart at the wall and picked an arbitrary price.
There are real issues facing lines companies around pricing for peak consumption, but it’s unfair to target and blame solar for the very things that the power companies have ignored for decades.
A better solution is more real-time pricing using smart technology, so all consumers and producers pay their fair share of costs. But because we have a total mess of a smart meter roll-out it’s unlikely. What we need is greater government leadership to encourage a fair go for everyone in the electricity industry and not just the big established companies. Government leadership should outline a vision of a modern, clean electricity grid, but in Simon Bridges we have an Energy Minister who is missing in action – more interested in photo opportunities that real change.
This solar charge comes on top of solar buy-back rates dropping more than 70% in some cases, new fees introduced, ridiculous red tape, and anti-solar reports funded in part by you the taxpayer. The attack on solar is happening because the big electricity companies see solar as a threat and they’d rather try to block its growth than compete on price.
Last year I had a Bill in front of Parliament establishing an independent umpire to give solar a fair go, but it was defeated by National and Peter Dunne. We face important questions on the future of our electricity grid. It’s high time we had a Government that stood for fairness, cleaner and cheaper energy, and not just more rising power bills, needless pollution from Huntly, and super-profits for the electricity industry.