This article published in the Sydney Herald on the 27th December 2016, sums up the key issues affecting 146,000 homes on the 31st December 2016.
NSW solar bonus scheme ending, but still ‘mass confusion’ for customers
Less than a week before the lucrative NSW solar bonus scheme ends, there is still “mass confusion” among the 146,000 affected households, industry figures say.
The scheme, which was launched in 2011 to encourage the uptake of renewable energy, handed homeowners 60¢ or 20¢ “feed-in” tariffs per kilowatt hour, for the solar energy they put back into the grid.
But from December 31 those homeowners are set to face “bill shock”, when their tariff rates drop to around 6¢, which is less than the amount they will be charged for accessing electricity from the grid.
The biggest change for all affected consumers has been the need to switch from a gross meter to a net meter, a process that has been beset by lengthy delays.
Michael Furey, the NSW chairman of the non-profit Australian Solar Council, said: “From the customer side there is mass confusion, and also a huge amount of frustration, because customers have been told to get information from their energy retailers and that has been either difficult to access or confusing.”
Mr Furey said most energy retailers were well overdue in rolling out net meters in time for the December 31 cut-off, simply because the scale of the project had been underestimated.
“Originally the scheme was only designed to attract 42,000 new solar systems. Instead, 147,000 were installed. So there has been a big delay because there are so many people involved.”
The cost of the meter will be worn by the consumer in most cases, either through an upfront payment of around $700 or by being locked into a two- to a three-year contract with a provider.
Powershop is one provider attempting to roll out smart meters at no cost to the customer.
Northern beaches resident Harry Stamboulidis said his provider, “one of the big three”, first contacted him in March about the end of the scheme, but he has heard nothing since.
“There has been a total lack of clarity and abysmal service. Consumers are not being assisted at all, if anything we are being kept in an absolute cloud,” he said, adding that he has had to call.
Mr Stamboulidis has been with his provider, which he has asked Fairfax Media not to name, for 15 years. However, he said he was “seriously considering” changing in the new year.
From January 1, households that already have a net meter can use the electricity they generate to power appliances in the home at the time, while any excess energy is exported to the grid, earning the homeowner an unsubsidised feed-in tariff of around 6¢.
According to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, changing from a gross to a net meter could leave NSW customers between $234 and $461 better off each year.
But Mr Stamboulidis said it remains unclear when he will see the new feed-in tariff, as he awaits the installation of his meter.
“They are allowing us to slip into the new year with a gross meter, which will send all generated electricity into the system, with huge advantage to them and no advantage to us.”
Mr Furey estimates that an average-sized two-kilowatt system that has not been switched to net metering will cost a homeowner around $1.20 a day, from January 1.
An EnergyAustralia spokesperson said that it understood customers were confused about delays, but it expected to have all net meters installed by the middle of 2017.
“We do not think our performance to date has been good enough … To make sure not a single EnergyAustralia customer is disadvantaged, we’re crediting $40 each month to our NSW solar customers who … haven’t yet had their meter installed.”
A spokesperson for Origin said customers were informed about issues that caused an installation delay.
“Origin is working hard to safely complete digital meter installations … and we expect to have completed the vast majority of installations by the end of March.”
Neither Origin or EnergyAustralia would comment how many customers were still yet to receive their new meter.
The feed-in tariffs offered by the major providers from January 1 are 10¢ from Origin, 6.1¢ from AGL and EnergyAustralia and up to 12¢ from smaller market players such as Enova Energy.