Page 2211 - Week 06 - Wednesday, 22 June 2011

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The bill, in itself, does not impose any extra costs to the Canberra electricity consumers as the cap and the tariff remain constant, and that is the central point of this. We have managed to find a way through that provides some certainty and provides the possibility for transition to the local solar sector without increasing the cost of the scheme.

Effectively, what will be happening is that these micro generators will be installing solar on the roofs of Canberra houses at least as efficiently as the medium-scale generators. We do not think it is ideal that the capacity is used up from the medium-scale cap, but we think it is a better outcome than killing off the local solar sector, which has been spending time over the last couple of years building itself up, developing skills, employing staff, investing in facilities, investing in infrastructure, and has now hit this brick wall, and that is a real possibility.

These consequences are very real. One company owner reported to me that they have had no orders, no emails and no phone calls for consultations for people in the ACT since 31 May, the night the minister closed the micro scheme. In six to eight weeks the back orders for companies will start to dry up and they will begin to lay off staff, staff who want to work in solar but have nowhere to go. We lose skills, the industry loses confidence, and the solar capital is starting to look like a pipedream.

I would like to add here that the industry has been proactive about putting forward to the minister and to me a restrained model of support that it thinks will see it being able to keep going. In fact, some companies have advocated an even lower tariff rate than the 75 per cent of the premium immediately, and they have all put forward that the tariff should be progressively dropped over the next three years at around 3c to 5c a year until we reach grid parity—perhaps five years away in the ACT. They would be happy to operate in that environment, with clear signals from government about the direction of policy.

Anyone who doubts that should not. Presumably most of the members made their way through the gathering of protestors outside yesterday morning—perhaps the happiest protestors I have ever seen; everyone was smiling and very friendly out there—but they are passionate about their industry. You just needed to see the placards, where, even on their placards they were advocating that the tariff continue to drop. We saw placards saying, “25c will be fine in the next couple of years.” The industry knows that costs are coming down; it just knows that these sudden lurches destroy confidence and have the potential to undermine all the good work that has been done in the last couple of years.

There is some irony that in this sad story it appears to be the Greens who have understood how these small business people operate. Perhaps that is because we took the time to listen. But I am hopeful that both the government and the Canberra Liberals will give consideration to debating this bill next week. We will be seeking an urgency motion to bring it on, because this obviously is the last chance to do this and provide that continued operating environment for the industry. Hopefully, then, the bill will also be passed.

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