Yesterday The Australia Institute released a damning report on the federal government’s solar PV rebate program, written by associate director for the ANU Centre for Climate Law and Policy Andrew Macintosh.

The report contended that a combination of Labor’s move to rebrand the scheme and carry through the Howard government budget initiative to double the rebate, along with the introduction of state-based feed-in tariffs plus local government incentives, created a “perfect storm” that magnified the program’s flaws and created a huge cost over-run of more than $1 billion within 18 months.

The report concluded:

“The Australian experience with the PRVP-SHCP highlights how care needs to be taken to ensure that renewable energy programs are designed and administered to generate public benefit outcomes. Low- and zero-emission energy is required to address climate change and there is a need for government programs that help lower the cost of these technologies and promote their deployment. However, when poorly targeted and designed, these programs can be wasteful and produce predominantly private rather than public benefits.”

A few days before the report came out, Crikey ran the following post on our Rooted blog, which has created quite a bit of discussion — have a read and share your experiences if you happen to be one of the home owners that signed up to the scheme:

Kris Coventry writes: In June of 2008, in a burst of altruism and eco-friendliness, I decided it was time to ‘do my bit’. While the newly installed Kevin07 government debated whether “the greatest moral challenge of our time” was actually real, and if it was, then how best to deal with it, I decided to take action. With my credit card poised, I clicked away four thousand of my hard earned dollars.

Several months later, I had six gleaming PV panels sitting on the roof of my house pumping electricity into the grid every time the sun poked through the Melbourne sky. One advantage of a drought is that the sun does this most of the time, so it was exciting to see the dial on my old-fashioned electricity meter actually spinning backwards. Yes! I was making my own electricity.

But I could do better than this, I was told. With a new modern “smart” meter, I would be able to work out exactly how much energy I was producing and how much I was consuming. I would get extra credit for the energy I put into the grid. Something called a “feed-in tariff”. That sounded good too.

After a couple of hundred more hard earned dollars had been removed from my credit card, I had a new “smart” electricity meter and a new hobby — electricity counting.

For those who’ve never tried it (which is probably most of you), electricity counting is great fun. I would come home from work after a sunny day to find that I had generated 7kWh of electricity while my house had only consumed 1kWh in my absence. Other times, on a cloudy Saturday I would be inspired to do some cleaning, only to find that the cumulative efforts of my vacuum cleaner, dishwasher and washing machine had chewed up 10kWh in a day when I would only generate 2kWh.

But overall, I was in front. I was making more power than I was consuming. It felt great. I was doing my bit, and it was just a matter of time before my cheap electricity bills made me feel even better.

Unfortunately, that ‘time’ has now stretched to two years. When I got my first bill from my new friends at TRUenergy, and saw that I hadn’t received a cent of credit for my newly generated power, I rang up to ask why. “Still sorting out the legislation…” was the seemingly reasonable response. “Give us a few more months, but don’t worry, we’re still counting your electricity. You’ll get credited for it later on.”

Fine, I thought. The fun of electricity counting and my overwhelming feeling of altruism stretched even to electricity retailers. They need a chance to sort it out.

There followed a series of phone calls to my friends at TRUenergy over a couple of years. Teething troubles, billing problems, technology issues… I think I have now heard almost every excuse available from TRUenergy and the feeling of altruism is wearing a bit thin.

So I look forward to my next correspondence from TRUenergy. I still live in the optimistic hope that I will receive some credit for the 2000kWh of electricity I have given them (worth well over $1000 with the feed-in tariff).

In the mean time, counting the interest I have failed to earn on the money outlaid, I am well over $5000 worse off and have nothing to show for it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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