Tathra edges closer to 50/50 by 2020.

Uniting Church Tathra
Uniting Church Tathra

Last week the solar panels were launched on the Uniting Church in Tathra. The panels were the culmination of many months of hard work and fundraising by the Tathra Enduro bike race team. The bike race raised $15,000 from the event. Money raised this year goes towards solar panels for the Uniting Church and Land Council office in Bega, along with a new wind turbine for the Tathra surf club.

Next year we will be limiting entries in the Tathra Enduro to 600 competitors which should allow us to get every community building in Tathra set up with renewable energy. The year after that we hope to start working on some big renewable projects. Next years Tathra Enduro is booked for 21/22 April.

Unfortunately, the panels on the church will not get a feed in tariff (FIT). We missed the April cut-off, which means the panels will be producing electricity for energy companies for free.

I am looking forward to the outcome of the stage 2 Solar Summit. At the moment it would seem (although it is hard to be sure) that the O?Farrell government is opposed to any Feed-In-Tariff for solar panels. That is not necessarily unreasonable. The Productivity Report says a price on carbon is the most cost effective way to reduce emissions, and with a price on carbon, you don?t need a FIT. However, if the NSW state government is opposed to a Feed-In-Tariff, then it is unreasonable for them to also be opposed to a price on carbon. They must support something. The solar industry is too important to the regional economy of SE NSW.

The O’Farrell government must either legislate for a 1:1 Feed-In-Tariff, or support a price on carbon.
Matthew Nott

Dad’s Army

As discussions about a price on carbon reach a critical point in Australia, the two most prominent climate sceptics from Britain will be visiting our shores to tell us Antipodeans what needs to be done.

Lord Monkton and Nigel Lawson will be joining forces with our very own Professor Ian Plimer to try and convince us that carbon dioxide is not a significant greenhouse gas.

Lord Monkton is an interesting character. He claims to be a member of the House of Lords. He claims to be a Nobel Laureate, and he claims to have found a cure for multiple sclerosis, influenza, food poisoning, and the herpes virus. None of this is true. Anyone who disagrees with The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley?s sceptical position on climate change is deemed either a communist or a fascist.

Nigel Lawson (who served as the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher) thinks climate change is going to be a good thing. Even if it is bad, he says, there is no point in saving the planet if it is going to ruin the economy.

Ian Plimer flies against all the evidence in thinking that the planet is cooling.

The three of them have a few things in common. None of them are climate scientists, or have published any scientific papers on the subject. They all regard climate change as some sort of conspiracy, and they all agree that nothing should be done about rising levels of greenhouse gases.

The most cost effective way of reducing emissions is via a price on carbon. If you are opposed to a price on carbon, then you must either support a more costly and less effective approach or you must be opposed to any action at all. The only way you can justify no action on climate change is if you are confidently sceptical about the science. That?s why Monkton, Lawson and Plimer are getting together.

This phalanx of grumpy old men is joining forces in Australia to try and convince us that climate science is incorrect, and that there is nothing wrong with rapidly rising levels of atmospheric CO2 after all.

If ?non-experts? like these three want to be part of the debate, they have a responsibility to respect the science. In the past they have deliberately misrepresented data. It will be interesting to see what ?science? they use to support their position on this occasion.
Matthew Nott

Climate debate shifts a gear

The long awaited Productivity Report into climate change was released last week, and has significantly changed the dynamics of the climate debate in Australia. Whilst all political parties in Australia accept the science of climate change and agree that something must be done, just what to do, and when, has been a hot topic of debate in Australia.

There is bipartisan support in Australia for an emission reduction target of at least 5% by 2020. There is no danger of Australia being thrust into a leadership role with that sort of target (consider Britain’s target of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2025).

How do we best achieve a 5% reduction target by 2020? Labor propose a price on carbon, transitioning to an Emission Trading Scheme over the next few years. Tony Abbott proposes a ?Direct Action? approach. There are few policy details for either of these approaches.

The Productivity Commission looked at climate policies of 9 different countries (Australia, China, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Britain, and the US).

The global picture is a shambles, with more than 1000 measures in 9 countries identified. There are huge variations in the cost effectiveness of different approaches, and it is clear that Australia?s performance in tackling climate change is mediocre.

The Productive Report makes two clear findings that should help Australia determine its climate policy.

The first is that the cheapest and most cost effective way of reducing emissions is via a market based price on carbon. A Direct Action approach is expensive and ineffective.

The second point is that Feed-In-Tariffs are not the most cost effective way of driving a transition to renewable energy. The best way of doing that is with a price on carbon that makes the cost of renewable energy competitive with coal.

The environmental cost of fossil fuels goes unrecognised in Australia: that represents a market failure. The market needs to solve the problem of climate change, and the way to do that is to put a price on carbon.

What our community needs to take away from the Productivity Commission report is that other countries are acting, but they are not all using the most efficient policies. If we use broad market based mechanisms, we will gain a competitive advantage because our cost of reducing carbon will be less than their cost of reducing carbon.
Matthew Nott
Solar in big trouble

Last Friday 174 people gathered at the Bega Showground pavilion to learn about drastic changes made to the NSW Feed-In-Tariff legislation. With the Bega Valley having one of the highest rates of ownership of photovoltaic cells in the country, and with solar being the fastest growing industry in the area, a lot of people will be affected by changes to the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT).

Everyone attending the meeting was aware of the retrospective changes to the 60 cent FIT, down to 40 cents. Many people were unaware that applications for solar panels made after April 28 will receive no net or gross Feed-In-Tariff. Without a replacement strategy, this change is a threat to the solar energy industry in NSW.

The purpose of the meeting was look at how people with existing solar panels could be looked after, whilst maintaining a viable solar industry into the future. The aim was to come up with a community resolution that Mr Constance could take to the Stage 2 Solar Summit in Newcastle on 6/5/11 on behalf of the Bega electorate.

The resolutions were agreed to:

* The O?Farrell government should identify and recognise the savings put forward by the Australian Solar Energy Society regarding an overestimate of nearly $300 million from basing electricity produced by panels in NSW on Northern Territory figures. The state government should also consider the potential for distributed energy to make substantial savings in the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades. I don?t believe this significant saving has been taken into account.
* The above savings should allow the state government to honour all existing contracts
* The state government should legislate a 1:1 FIT for household solar photovoltaic cells, guaranteed for the lifetime of that installation (households should be paid the same amount of money for the electricity they put into the grid from solar panels, as they pay for electricity).
* The government should also acknowledge that the significant cause of rising electricity prices is the need to replace poles and wires ($42 billion over 5 years) not the Solar Benefit Scheme (less than $1.9 billion over 5 years).

172 members of the audience voted for Mr Constance to take the resolutions to the Stage 2 Solar Summit, 2 voted against.

Unfortunately the state government unexpectedly canceled last Monday?s planned stage 2 Solar Summit, leaving the solar industry in no-man?s land. Equally unexpectedly, O’Farrell announced on Tuesday that retrospective changes to the FIT had been abandoned, meaning the 60 tariff remains intact.

This is great news for those who have already purchased solar panels, but is not so good for those planning solar into the future. The O’Farrell government is standing by its decision to axe the Solar Benefit Scheme (at this stage). That means there is no FIT which means that if you purchase solar cells after April 2011, you will be paid nothing for the electricity you generate.

The solar energy industry remains in limbo, anxiously awaiting the outcome of the stage 2 solar summit to see if the NSW government will come up with a strategic approach for a viable industry into the future.
Matthew Nott

What’s Fair?

The highest proportion of people who purchase solar PV are elderly and low income.

The scrapping of the solar bonus scheme raises the question of fairness. Mr Constance has pointed out that ?some 90 per cent of people were subsidising the almost 10 per cent who had solar panels.?

There is of course another way of looking at this. The 10 per cent with solar panels have invested a considerable amount of money in solar, which significantly reduces their household emissions. The reduction in emissions is benefiting the 90 per cent who have not invested in solar technology, when you put this into a climate change context.

So who is being treated unfairly?

To answer that question we need to know what impact the solar benefit scheme had on electricity prices? I have heard many different figures. Mr O?Farrell said if nothing was done the cost to family power bills would be about $170 over the five years to 2016. That amounts to $34 per year. That equates to about one cappuccino per household per month.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) recently released a report outlining the planned price hikes for NSW. On 1 July, 2011 the average cost of power across NSW will increase by 18%.

Two thirds of the projected price increases are due to investment in poles and wires. Network upgrades continue to be the main driver of electricity price increases in Australia, not renewable energy.

Scrapping the Solar Benefit Scheme will have two problems. The first is that it will do very little to control rising household electricity bills. The second is that the damage done to the solar industry will make solar panels more difficult to afford, which will make it increasingly difficult for people to cope with electricity price hikes. It is worth pointing out that a high percentage of people investing in solar are pensioners and low-income households.

The Solar Benefit Scheme may be unfair to some, but scrapping it is unfair to all.

Matthew Nott