Solar panel companies are feeling the heat
Adam Morton and Tom ArupJuly 31, 2009
ONE of the country’s largest solar panel retailers has warned it will shed two-thirds of its staff next month unless the Federal Government changes its renewable energy bill.
Solar Shop Australia said yesterday about 100 sales and marketing jobs were at immediate risk due to a crash in the rooftop solar panel market since the Government abruptly ended an $8000 rebate on June 9, three weeks earlier than scheduled.
The rebate was to be replaced with a market-based solar credits scheme expected to net a typical Victorian household about $4000 for a one-kilowatt system.
But the renewable energy bill including the credits scheme was delayed in June after the Government attempted to link an industry compensation package to its divisive emissions trading proposal.
It prompted the Liberals to withdraw support for the clean energy bill, which was referred to a Senate committee due to report on August 12.
Solar Shop managing director Adrian Ferraretto said ending the solar rebate without a replacement had triggered a collapse in sales from a high of 450 solar systems a week to fewer than 10. He said the Government was ‘‘playing political football’’ with his 160 employees and the nation’s 4000-job solar industry.
‘‘If the legislation doesn’t get through in August, we will have to start making cuts overnight — [by October or November] we would have enough work for 5-10 people,’’ he said.
Many in the clean energy sector accept the rebate was unsustainable, but are highly critical of the Government for a string of policy changes. Its axing of the solar rebate was followed by its cancelling of a program that covered up to half the cost of setting up clean power sources in remote areas.
Solar Shop’s competitors were less bullish about the legislation, but said they also faced staffing pressures.
Modern Solar chief executive Laurie Mallia said sales had fallen by about 30 per cent and the company faced losing staff if the bill was not passed this year.
He said the Government had failed to deliver a seamless transition to the new system as promised. ‘‘We want them to stop playing politics,’’ he said.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the Opposition would attempt to decouple the renewable energy and emissions trading bills. He expected the clean energy bill to be passed next month.
He proposed a change so that the renewable energy bill would require 5 per cent of electricity to come from clean sources that could also provide baseload power.
The bill currently has a broad target of 20 per cent of energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.
Mr Hunt said the change would counter concerns that comparatively cheap wind farms would take up the entire target at the expense of solar and geothermal power, both of which could potentially provide baseload. But he said the Opposition would not hold the bill hostage to win support for the proposed amendment.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong blamed the Opposition for delaying the renewable energy bill. ‘‘We have a very clear policy position — we believe the best thing for the Australian economy and for tackling climate change is to have both the [emissions trading scheme] and the renewable energy target,’’ she said.