Battle over solar tax heats up as full hearing announced
Wednesday, 1 February: An extra charge for solar users, deemed a “tax on solar”, will soon be challenged in a full hearing after an independent authority agreed it needed to be “fully tested”.
The Electricity Rulings Panel, an independent appeals authority, will review a complaint made to New Zealand’s electricity watchdog, the Electricity Authority (EA), over an extra charge for solar power.
Last April, Hawke’s Bay lines company, Unison, introduced the country’s first ever solar tariff – a fee aimed solely at customers using the renewable energy of the sun.
The move was met with outrage, and over 79,000 people have signed a Greenpeace New Zealand petition asking the EA to stop Unison, and other lines companies from doing the same.
Three separate complaints about the solar tax were lodged with the EA, which ruled that although the tax isn’t as clearly service-based or cost-reflective as it could be and doesn’t offer sufficient choices to consumers; Unison wasn’t in breach of any regulations.
But energy services company, Solarcity, has challenged the decision by taking it to the Electricity Rulings Panel, which has just agreed Unison’s solar tax needed to be reviewed and “fully tested”.
The panel also rejected a request from Unison to disallow a hearing.
Greenpeace campaigner, Amanda Larsson, says the escalation shows an increasing power struggle between households wanting more independence over their electricity and industry players wanting to maintain control.
“We are in the midst of a climate emergency, and to survive we have to adopt clean, renewable energy as soon as possible. Solar is rapidly becoming the cheapest form of new electricity generation globally, and uptake in New Zealand is growing by the day,” she says.
“The electricity industry needs to adapt fast. For some companies, like Unison, the knee-jerk reaction has been to slap a fee on solar while they work out how to deal with it.
“But as the electricity industry has clearly stated it has no plans to build large-scale renewable generation anytime soon, solar is one of the only ways we can generate our own clean energy relatively cheaply.
“As we sit on the cusp of a solar boom, the outcome of this Electricity Rulings Panel hearing is important because it will shed light on whether the electricity system exists fundamentally to help households get clean, affordable energy or simply to make big profits for energy company CEOs.”
A date for the Electricity Rulings Panel hearing has yet to be set.
The hearing isn’t the first time the solar tax has been challenged through official channels.
Last December, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that a complaint about Greenpeace’s use of the word “tax” to describe the solar fee had no grounds to proceed.
The ruling stated that although Unison’s network charges for solar don’t fit the legal definition of the word “tax”, the word is considered appropriate by some because the charges are compulsory and are a demand on people’s resources.