Huge new NSW rooftop solar scheme on the way

NSW rebate plan for 500,000 new solar homes

In the lead up to the NSW state election on March 23, both the opposition and government have announced huge schemes to support new rooftop solar for households, helping to reduce soaring energy bills.

Whoever wins, we can expect a solar boom in NSW. Until then, it’s likely the industry will come to grinding halt as households wanting to add solar wait to see what’s on offer. Will it be Labor’s up-front rebate or the Liberals interest-free loans? Welcome to the solarcoaster. The solar industry surges and stalls based on the latest round of government policy.

Here’s the run down of what’s been promised.

Labor’s “Solar Homes” scheme

Labour announced on Saturday (9/2/2019) that it will actively support 500,000 households to install rooftop solar over the next decade, should it win. Under Labor’s Solar Homes policy, owner-occupied households in NSW with a combined income of $180,000 or less would be eligible for a new rebate. The Solar Homes rebate will be capped at $2,200 per household. As a result, the state would have over a million solar homes.

On average, households could expect to save up to $600 a year off their electricity bills. NSW Labor’s Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Adam Searle said, “Solar Homes is just one aspect of Labor’s plan for cheaper and cleaner energy across NSW. Our policies will cut both electricity bills and carbon emissions.” The program is planned to begin during the 2019-2020 financial year.

Liberal’s “Empowering Homes” scheme

Within 24 hours, the Liberal Government struck back, announcing a major policy to support solar and storage for NSW residents. Up to 300,000 households across NSW could access no-interest loans provided by the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government to purchase solar-battery and battery systems. The program is estimated to bring 3 GW of power generation back into the grid plus the benefits of storage.

To be eligible for the scheme, applicants will need to be owner-occupiers of a house with an annual household income of up to $180,000. Loans of up to $9,000 per battery system and up to $14,000 per solar-battery system will be available. It is estimated that a family with a $500 quarterly electricity bill could save up to $285 a year on their bills while repaying the no interest loans. These savings could increase to more than $2,000 a year when the loan is fully repaid. Energy Minister Don Harwin said the program was designed to bring down the cost of power bills, while allowing more households to access affordable solar technology.

Shades of Victoria

The schemes on offer are comparable to Victoria’s new Solar Homes Package – where up to 650,000 households are eligible for state government support for new solar. This policy proved popular with voters and arguably helped the Andrews Government win office. There’s no doubt both sides of politics in NSW have taken note. It seems voters like the idea of adding rooftop solar to combat rising energy costs.

Both NSW programs are planned to run over a decade. At the same time, the existing federal solar rebate scheme available to households is reducing in value each year. By 2030, the federal STC rebate will be phased out. So those that get in early on whichever scheme gets up in NSW, should do best.

What does this mean for prospective solar owners?

Undoubtedly, Labour’s Solar Homes, supports more households getting rooftop solar and enjoying energy bill savings. However, the rebate is likely to deliver a greater number of small systems – as many will opt to minimise any cash outlay. Labor claims that the policy will create a “virtual” power plant for the state, generating up to an additional 2 GW of power once fully installed. While this offsets most of the power generated by a single coal power station – without storage in the mix, it’s a partial solution.

The Liberals “Empowering Homes” policy, while directly assisting fewer households, could help them to go bigger on solar or storage. By removing any upfront outlay – through an interest-free loan, paid off with annual energy savings, many could be tempted to scale up to a sizeable solar storage solution. The addition of 3 GW of solar into the grid plus storage, would add more cheap power into the mix. That’s something that can benefit all electricity users.

Time will tell which party and policy prevails. Until the state election is settled, the only certainty is that solar in NSW is on track for sunny days.

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