The solar power industry is backing a Green Party plan to help homeowners install solar panels on their properties, as Government continues to rubbish it as a waste of taxpayer money.
The Greens’ plan, called Solar Homes, will loan up to $15,000 and be paid back through rates over 15 years. It has the support of probable coalition partner Labour, as well as the Sustainable Electricity Association.
“We think it’s a fantastic initiative,” chairman Brendan Winitana said on Firstline this morning. “We don’t see anything else happening in this space that will provide consumers with more choice, more alternatives to simply buying power off the grid, off retailers.”
Take-up of solar power has been slow in New Zealand, perhaps due to the abundance of other sources of renewable energy such as hydro and wind, and the high start-up costs of solar.
“The Government… wants to get the country to 90 percent renewable,” says Prime Minister John Key, “but you would say economically and logically the obvious place for us to go would be those cheaper alternative renewables like hydro or wind or geothermal.
“Over time, I’m sure as solar comes down there will be a place for that, but… it’s highly unlikely it’ll ever be cost-efficient in the short-term.”
Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges has accused the Greens of wanting to “print money” by offering loans at below the market rate. But Mr Winitana says the petrol and oil industry gets tens of millions of dollars in subsidies every year.
The longevity of solar panels has also been unfairly maligned by opponents of the scheme, says Mr Winitana.
“There’s four generations of the technologies – so the latest technologies are warrantied to generate at a certain level – 80 percent of their output power – for 25 years. I know of many sites where solar systems have been running for near on 30 years.”
By putting the source of generation at the home, Mr Winitana believes solar is the future of renewable electricity generation.
“The old concept of generating power centrally and moving it around the country, where you have huge transmission losses, is slowly becoming a tad archaic,” he says. “There are many instances in many countries where that model is being superseded, so we see this initiative by the Greens as a future-proofing move to help the consumer.”
Mr Key says increasing the amount of solar energy could result in a drop in use of other renewable sources, suggesting it could result in higher use of cheap fossil fuels.
“We have some solar, but solar’s I think about three times more expensive than the other options because the sun doesn’t always shine and it’s not always available.
“In all likelihood if you increase the amount of solar, you’ll actually end up reducing the amount of other renewables.”
The scheme, if implemented, will see 30,000 homes fitted with solar panels in the first three years.