Taxpayers are spending more to install smaller solar systems thanks to the Rudd Government’s means testing of the $8000 solar panels rebate, Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Environment Department officials responsible for administration of the rebate scheme made the revelations at hearings in Brisbane today of a Senate inquiry into the much criticised household means test of $100,000.
Senator Birmingham said the Rudd Government’s mismanagement of the scheme means taxpayers are getting less environmental benefit per dollar spent by the Government.
“Taxpayers are now getting less bang for their buck thanks to Peter Garrett’s ill-considered means testing of the solar panels rebate,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“Environment Department officials have confirmed that the average solar system being installed is now more than 20 per cent smaller than was previously the case.
“Over the life of the solar rebates program, units have averaged 1.57kW in size. Since the means testing was introduced, the average size has slumped to 1.24kW.
“Mr Garrett’s blunder means that for each tax dollar invested, the Government is now generating 20 per cent less renewable energy.”
Officials have also failed to provide any certainty to the solar industry, which is still reeling from the decision to introduce the means test, admitting that available rebates could run out by September without increased funding.
“Far from improving the sustainability of solar rebates, the means testing has injected such fear for the future of the rebate that eligible consumers and industry are rushing applications for small units to ensure they don’t miss out,” Senator Birmingham said.
“The Government only budgeted for approximately 6000 rebates this financial year. Yet 2279 eligible applications were received in July alone meaning that, at current trends, all funding will be exhausted in September. However, Department officials were unable to provide any guarantee that additional funds would be made available to meet excess demand. 
“Given that those ineligible for the rebate have already stopped installing solar systems, the industry is rightly concerned that their entire business could dry up within weeks unless the Government changes its tune.”
Officials can see the problem this lack of certainty is creating, even if their Minister is refusing to give them any means to address it – the Department’s First Assistant Secretary, Renewables & Energy Efficiency Division, Mr Ross Carter, admitted the potential end of the rebate within weeks “would be of concern to industry”.
“Peter Garrett has to own up to the fact that he got it wrong with the means test and must announce measures now to provide this embryonic industry with the secure future it needs to deliver environmental benefits for all Australians,” Senator Birmingham said.