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Why It’s Just Plain Bad Business to Tax Solar Power

The news that Hawke’s Bay lines company Unison Energy is charging customers with solar panels an extra fee is, frankly, appalling.

It’s not surprising that so many people – 20,000 and rising – have already signed a Greenpeace petition calling on New Zealand’s electricity regulator, the Electricity Authority, to outlaw what’s effectively a “solar tax” and help protect a forward-thinking, environmentally aware industry.

Harrisons Energy Solutions Managing Director Phil Harrison says Unison’s move was quite a surprise.

“There was a bit of talk before the announcement but we really didn’t think it was going to happen,” Phil says. “I think their argument is that people without solar are subsidising people with solar because there are certain network costs – but that’s a lame argument really and anyone looking with a clear head would see it for what it is: just putting more obstacles in the way of a potentially threatening industry for them.

“They tried to do a similar thing in Australia a few years ago but it was shot down, and I’m sure it would be the same in New Zealand because most Kiwis hearing this story would be alarmed that a monopoly can come in and put an obstacle in the way of something like solar that’s a good thing.”

Of course, we’d urge you to sign the petition too – but we thought we’d also bring a bit of sense to the argument with our top-10 reasons why taxing solar power doesn’t make any sense at all.

1. Perception: New Zealand relies heavily on its perception as a clean, environmentally aware and innovative country for much of its business overseas and its attraction as a tourism destination. The image of us being a country where clean, innovative energy sources are taxed simply doesn’t fit into that picture.

2. Choice: Around 80% of our energy in New Zealand is from renewable sources but that still leaves a 20% gap that can be made up by more adaption to solar. One reason people convert to solar is doing right by the planet – but another important reason for New Zealanders is having the choice. And if we can produce our own power at a rate that is pretty affordable and – in time – potentially less expensive than a power company then we should be able to choose to do that without having a power company dictating whether we can or can’t.

3. Thin end of the wedge: Other lines companies must be looking at Unison as a relatively small lines company in Hawke’s Bay and thinking that if one can get away with it, then they may too. As Phil says, “You’d have to assume that others would follow…”

4. A poor business argument: By stressing that solar customers are using less power and therefore should pay more, Unison is flying in the face of efforts we all make to use less power. Where does it end? If you switch your hot water to gas and your lighting to LED, your power bill would be less. If you use energy efficient appliances and light bulbs you’re using less power. So should they be taxed too? Most Harrrisons Energy customers are not trying to eliminate their power bills, they are trying to cut them and help save energy consumption – this is a good thing, certainly not something to tax.

5. Attacking Kiwi businesses: Many New Zealand companies working with solar energy are working with the most innovative technologies in the world. Harrisons’ partnerships with companies such as SolarEdge and LG mean we can bring the latest cutting edge systems into the country and keep us at the forefront of clean, renewable energy. Allowing large energy companies to block this innovation is short-sighted and a kick in the guts for Kiwi companies striving in a new era of energy production and distribution.

6. Attacking Kiwi homeowners: Consumers using solar have already had to put up with feed-in tariffs being cut from 18c per kWh to around 8c as solar started to gain traction and are used to having no control over whether this can change. It would be great to see the Electricity Authority stepping in to ensure homeowners who choose to use solar power aren’t left at the mercy of power companies who want to charge them more and cut the price of power they buy back off them.

7. Battling disruptive technology rarely works: Throughout recent advances in technology plenty of industries have faced the need to change because of the advent of new disruptive technologies such as solar power. There’s nothing new in Unison’s reaction – after all, plenty of carriage-makers were worried by the invention of the car and camera and film producers were set back by the invention of digital photography. Unison’s problem though, is that fighting against progress never succeeds.

8. Missing an opportunity: If Unison were smarter about their position in the energy market, they’d be trying to use their institutional knowledge and experience to get involved in solar power. Plenty of other large companies such as Genesis and Vector are already involved so heading in the opposite direction makes Unison look like they lack business strategy.

9. Fairness: A lot of countries around the world have governments that actually incentivise and subsidise domestic solar energy systems – we’re not asking for that, we’re simply asking for a level playing field where power companies that are in the business of making money are not allowed to put obstacles in the way of companies trying to help homeowners make savings in their power bills.

10. Future-proofing New Zealand’s energy needs: The future of New Zealand’s energy consumption – including plug-in electric vehicles, home battery storage for solar-generated energy, home automation systems and the falling cost of new technologies – demands we all look at how we generate, store and distribute power differently. The grid will not become redundant any time soon, but it has to adapt to a new way in which consumers will use power. It is an exciting time to be part of the industry – it certainly isn’t a time to be penalising those who are striving for change.

If you’re against the idea of taxing those who are using renewable solar power, sign the petition here. And if you’d like more information about whether solar is right for you, you can contact Harrisons Energy on 0800 003354 or via the website.