One of Barry O’Farrell’s own MPs has accused him of causing ”deliberate and disproportionate harm” to participants in the solar bonus scheme, describing the state government’s decision to slash the rate paid to them as a ”betrayal”. By Sean Nicholls
As the Premier faces a backbench revolt from MPs fielding angry calls on the issue, the upper house MP Catherine Cusack has written to Mr O’Farrell criticising him for breaking an election promise and claiming cabinet was briefed with material containing ”significant errors”.
Ms Cusack, formerly the Coalition’s environment spokeswoman, urges Mr O’Farrell to rethink the decision to introduce legislation to cut the rate paid to customers from 60¢ a kilowatt hour to 40¢, which was not approved by the Coalition party room.
”The affected constituency of fixed and mid-low income homeowners overwhelmingly voted for us and feel betrayed,” she warns Mr O’Farrell in the letter, sent to all government MPs.
”Every electricity bill they receive from 1 July 2011 each quarter until December 2016 will anger them, because it will list the solar bonus rebate at 40 cents and remind them in exact dollar terms of the extent of the betrayal.”
Ms Cusack’s letter was sent as about 1500 people rallied at Circular Quay in a protest organised by the solar industry yesterday.
Under changes announced by the Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, up to 110,000 participants in the scheme will have the amount they are paid for generating electricity back into the grid using solar panels cut.
The scheme has been closed to new entrants since April 28 but about 40,000 already in the queue will be allowed in on a rate of 20¢ per kilowatt hour.
The government argues it is necessary because the scheme is underfunded by $749 million. It plans to introduce retrospective legislation to cut the feed-in tariff rate, arguing it will save taxpayers $470 million.
But in her letter to Mr O’Farrell, Ms Cusack says it is a central tenet of Liberal philosophy ”that any retrospective legislation to alter contracts is unprecedented and repugnant” and quotes the former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett as recently describing it as ”totally unacceptable”.
Ms Cusack says the proposed legislation causes ”deliberate and disproportionate harm to a specific class of investors”.
She points to a quote on Mr O’Farrell’s own website referring to its pre-election policy of ”honouring the state government’s current commitments”.
She recalls a conversation with one person who used an email from the office of the Nationals leader, Andrew Stoner, outlining the promise as part of a loan application for solar panels. ”There is a major issue of integrity at stake,” she says.
Yesterday the opposition environment spokesman, Luke Foley, accused the government of removing the page from the website after it was pointed out by the solar industry.
Far from saving taxpayers money, allowing 40,000 more people into the scheme would ”further increase electricity prices”, Ms Cusack argues.
She says cabinet ”may have been misinformed” about the impact of retrospective legislation because briefing material contained ”significant errors”, including about the average size of solar systems in NSW and how much people paid for panels.
Source: For the full story, visit The Age website.
To find out how the solar rebate scheme affects you, get in touch with your nearest Planet Power store today.