Vulnerable ACT customers should no longer foot the bill for "inequitable" solar power schemes that are overly generous towards better-off households, the competition watchdog has found.
ACT Sustainability Minister Shane Rattenbury said he would consider the commission’s recommendations with regards to the ACT’s feed-in scheme for solar power, lauded as one of the most generous in the country when introduced in 2009.
"The recommendation on feed-in tariffs essentially asks all taxpayers to share the cost of supporting small-scale clean energy generation, instead of all electricity users," Mr Rattenbury said.
"As we consider this recommendation and the others in the ACCC's report, we'll be assessing their sutiability to the ACT contaxt, with particular regard to how they might affect vulnerable energy users and low-income households."
This week the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission published the results of an inquiry into retail electricity pricing.
The commission recommended winding down and ultimately abolishing feed-in tariff schemes for solar energy.
In 2009 the ACT launched its feed-in scheme for solar power, with former energy minister Simon Corbell lauding it at the time as one of the most generous in the country.
Because vulnerable customers were less likely to be able to foot the bill to have solar panels installed, these premium feed-in tariffs were “inherently inequitable”, the commission found.
It also noted that public housing tenants, low-income households and sole parents had significantly lower rates of solar uptake than average, according to a Colmar-Brunton survey.
"... vulnerable customers are less likely to have solar [panels] installed," the commission's report noted.
The ACT’s scheme offered an average premium feed-in tariff of 50 cents for each kilowatt hour of electricity produced by solar panels, or about $1690 a year.
In 2014 it was estimated the scheme costed Canberra households who did not benefit from the tariff an average of $34 a year on top of their power bills.
The commission found that customers benefiting from the schemes paid significantly cheaper power bills than those who did not join.
“These generous payments are funded by all other users, who must pay for these amounts in increased charges,” the commission’s report read.
“This system of recovery is also not transparent, as the costs of the payments are spread across the entire customer base.”
Rather than spreading the costs over all power users, the commission recommended that states and territory governments should wind-up solar feed-in schemes and foot the bill.
“Any costs remaining from such schemes should be borne by state governments through their budgets … rather than being recovered through charges to electricity users, and this should be done on a permanent basis,” the commission wrote.
The Australian Council of Social Services said it strongly welcomed the commission's recommendation to have governments pay for solar schemes, rather than have costs "smeared across bills".
Mr Rattenbury said he would be speaking with utility company ActewAGL to discuss making things easier on vulnerable Canberrans.
"There are no specific ACT recommendations in this report but as we work with the other states to consider the ACCC's recommendations, we'll be assessing their suitability to the ACT context and how they might benefit Canberrans," he said.
"I'm in strong agreement with the ACCC that the prices and deals offered by energy companies to households and businesses are too confusing, and make it too hard for customers to find the best value deal."
As of December 2014 there were more than 10,000 Canberra homes hooked up to the feed-in scheme for solar power.
The ACT’s scheme was axed in mid-2011, but people who had entered contracts for roof-top solar panels were still allowed in.
The final deadline for rooftop solar panels to be connected to the scheme was December 2016.