Solar Scheme Doubt
The costly and controversial Solar Bonus Scheme has been suspended and could be scrapped, pending the findings of an environmental summit.
The scheme would be put on a two-month hold and the government’s Solar Summit would consider its future, Energy Minister Chris Hartcher announced.
Approved applicants would still receive payments until its planned cut-off in 2016, while those with applications pending would be left in limbo until the summit made its recommendations.
Mr Hartcher said the previous government’s solar panel scheme had blown out by more than $759 million, with a total cost spiralling out to around $1.9 billion.
"The NSW Government is committed to renewable energy but our focus will be sensible, sustained and affordable progress," he said.
The program pays householders for energy generated by solar panels, but the former Labor Government was forced to cut the tariff from 60c to 20c per kilowatt after a huge surge in sign-ups. It was also savaged by IPART for forcing up household power bills.
Mr Hartcher refused to rule out scrapping the scheme but said the Solar Summit would consider all options.
During the election campaign, then-Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell said he would offset the cost of the scheme through the Climate Change Fund. But the fund is $759 million short, leaving the budget to cover the shortfall.
Government estimates put the scheme’s total costs as high as $1.9 billion, with an estimated 150,000 households and businesses receiving rebates.
Mr Hartcher said Labor had only budgeted for $355 million and 73,000 households.
But Greens MP John Kaye said the Coalition had always been intent on crippling the solar energy industry.
"Killing this scheme until a summit can come up with a magic solution is the coward's way of killing it – the solar industry will be in rigor mortis by the time anything happens," he said.
"Don’t hide behind a gab fest… the Coalition have never been for solar energy."
He said he was concerned the mismanagement would slash jobs and destroy all confidence in the renewable energy industry.
The Solar Summit will be chaired by NSW chief scientist Professor Mary O’Kane, and will include industry, government and environmental groups.