Australia: Victoria FIT cut announced

The announcement, which is not unexpected due to the changes in other states, has again prompted discussion and concern within the Australian solar industry about the safety of jobs and the ability for solar to continue to grow under these circumstances.

The TFiT will be set at 25 cents per kilowatt hour (c/kWh) (€18.75 c/kWh) from January 1, 2012 for photovoltaic systems of five kW or less, down from the current 60 c/kWh (€45 c/kWh). The tariff will last for five years from the scheme’s commencement.

There are approximately 50,000 people in the state already participating in the schemes that will continue to get the premium rate.

People who have already paid a deposit or are already having solar systems installed must make sure all the required paperwork has been submitted before September 30 to receive the existing premium FIT.

The government said the reason for the change was that more competitive solar costs removed the imperative for governmental assistance at such a level.

"Since the Premium Feed-in Tariff was introduced in 2009, the cost of solar panels has dropped by about 40 percent and is predicted to continue falling, reducing the need for high solar incentives from Government," a statement on its website said.

Victorian Energy Minister Michael O’Brien said that under the 25-cent rate participants would recover the cost of their solar power systems within about 10 years, but warned new customers that if they tried to get in before the September 30 deadline they would probably be too late.

"Given it can take up to several months to complete the required steps, it is very unlikely that people purchasing a solar system from today will have enough time to qualify for the premium rate," he told reporters in Melbourne.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews accused to government of being obsessed with coal power and antagonistic toward renewables, particularly solar.

"I fear for those people who work in the solar industry," he said to reporters. "I fear for those who’ve invested in the solar energy industry."

The Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission will begin reviewing the FIT later this year.

The changes are reportedly not retrospective and all existing contracts will be honored.

John Grimes, CEO of the Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES), said in a statement provided to pv magazine that he was disappointed with the Victorian Government’s actions, although commended them on not retrospectively changing tariffs like what happened in New South Wales.

"This will put further pressure on an embattled solar industry," he said. "The Victorian Government is delivering a softer landing for the solar industry than the approach taken by the NSW, WA and ACT Governments and that is recognised by the solar industry.

"As always, the devil will be in the detail, and the Victorian Government still has some major questions to answer.

"The Government will also need to clarify the retailer approval process, which could create a significant logjam and deny many families the opportunity to install solar panels."

Conference news

These issues are bound to be discussed by the solar industry in Australia, which has also just released details of a conference in Sydney later this year.

The annual conference of the Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES), Solar 2011, will be held at Australian Technology Park in Sydney from November 30 to December 2, 2011.

AuSES will also team up with the Australian Photovoltaic Association (APVA), who will also be running a program stream as well as their Annual General Meeting during the conference.

Other activities during the weekend include the Solar PV Professional Development Day, for photovoltaic installers and professionals, and the Australian Market Entry Day, for companies entering the Australian solar market for the first time.