Monday, 20 September 2010 09:40

The solar energy industry has welcomed the ACT Government’s decision to dramatically expand the solar -feed-in tariff scheme.

Under the scheme, medium scale and commercial generators will be paid for the solar energy they produce.

The ACT Government says the policy will make Canberra the country’s solar capital.

“This is the most progressive policy reform for renewable energy in Australia, from any state or territory government,” said Environment Minister Simon Corbell.

Australian Solar Energy Society CEO John Grimes says the Government has delivered what the industry has been suggesting.

“It’s the first time anywhere in Australia that a government has got it right, they’ve made the framework so the industry can respond,” he said.

Mr Grimes says it is the first comprehensive plan.

“Industry is not looking for a pot of gold and goes through an extensive process to find one winner to build a solar farm,” he said.

“Industry is looking for support over the longer term not just to get one project up but 10, 20, 30 projects up and that’s exactly what this framework provides.”

The Government says the scheme will generate up to 240 megawatts of solar energy.

Large scale generators will have to bid for the right to access the feed-in tariff scheme, with the first auction of 40 megawatts to be held next year.

Mr Corbell says that 40 megawatts could be shared among a number of bidders.

“This will allow us to get the highest level of renewable energy generation at the lowest possible price to consumers,” he said.

Russell Marsh from the Clean Energy Council also welcomes the changes but wants to see the finer details.

“I think they are going to try and get overall 420 megawatts of capacity and they’ve split that down into different sections. It’s not quite clear of how many systems that actually means,” he said.

“What we don’t want to do is end up with only a few systems being installed. It should be about giving long term support and growth to the industry.”

Energy provider ActewAGL says it will bid for a share of the solar feed-in tariff.

Chief Executive Michael Costello says the scheme is sensible and will spread the costs of shifting to renewable energy evenly.

“This is a clever way to do it, because what this means is everyone biding for it has an interest in bidding the lowest possible feed-in tariff,” he said.

Mr Costello says electricity price rises will also be necessary if there is to be a shift away from coal-fired power stations.

“One of the things that surprises me is that there’s a view that costs won’t be passed on to consumers,” he said.

“Whatever way you go to combat global warming, the simple fact is, coal fired power stations – particularly brown coal power stations – are very very cheap energy. The question is do you want to move to something else?”

The Government had promised a $30 million grant to help set up a solar farm in Canberra but that has now been withdrawn in light of the new policy.

“This is a good process we believe this will be able to test the market out there but of course we’ll be pushing government to get on with this,” said Greens Leader Meredith Hunter.

But Opposition Leader Zed Seselja says the changes are a recipe for soaring power bills.

He says consumers are being asked to subsidise inefficient generators.

“They’ve broken their promise, the Greens and the Labor Party have broken what’s in their agreement, and instead they’re going to shift the costs on to households,” he said.

The Government expects the first large scale solar plants to be up and running by 2012.

Source: ABC Premium News.