Australia: fixed rate utility charges floated

Only days after the conservative government of Premier Clive Barnett was forced to make an embarrassing policy about face after it attempted to cut in half the solar FIT, it has now floated the idea of a fixed charge for grid connection. The move may raise the ire of residents with solar arrays, after they actively campaigned politicians in the face of the proposed FIT cuts.

In Australia at present, as it is in many parts of the world, a variable charge is applied to households for grid connection, dependent on electricity usage. Revenue from this charge has decreased as more households add rooftop photovoltaic arrays and consume less electricity from the grid. A fixed grid connection charge is an attempt by the government to remedy this.

In an interview with local radio, WA’s Premier Barnett said the government is looking into the measure. "It’s fair to say that electricity consumers, all of us, whether we’ve got solar panels or not, maybe we should be paying a fixed component for all the infrastructure, particularly the power line system," Barnett said.

The recent prominence of solar in political debate in Western Australia, and the action taken by households in the face of the proposed FIT cuts, have been interpreted by some in the solar industry as being an indication of the emergence of solar voters as a political force.

Solar industry analyst Warwick Johnson argued that voters in crucial seats in the September Australian federal election could have been swayed by the FIT changes. Australian clean technology columnist and publisher Giles Parkinson noted that while it took two weeks for the government of New South Wales to back down on proposed FIT cuts, the West Australian government did so in less that 24 hours. "The latest farce tells us two things: the power of the solar lobby has increased dramatically, and it now matters to the electorate," wrote Parkinson.

The utility scale photovoltaic market in Australia is only in its early stages with the bulk of installations being on residential rooftops.