Pensioner powerless against changing solar unit prices

Daylight robbery . . . Mosgiel pensioner Joe Morris is warning people against installing solar panels in a bid to beat the power companies. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A Mosgiel pensioner is warning people against getting burnt financially by solar power.

Joe Morris (92), of Mosgiel, said he paid $7750 to get eight solar panels installed on the roof of his house about four years ago.

Before installing the panels he crunched the numbers and it made financial sense, including his electricity retailer, Meridian, paying him about 25c for each unit he sold back to the grid.

“I worked out the pounds, shillings and pence and it was a payable proposition.”

But the proposition was looking more like “a dead loss” when Meridian dropped the export price to 8c nearly three years ago.

With his setup, he was selling a unit of power to Meridian for 8c and having to buy it back from it for 23.89c a unit.

“It’s thievery.”

He could buy a battery for his solar system and store unused solar units rather than export them, but batteries were expensive, so he had no option but to sell them back for 8c a unit.

Solar energy was often touted as the future of clean green energy so it should be financially feasible to entice more people to install it, he said.

Meridian spokeswoman Claire Shaw said most people who had solar installed still needed to access electricity from the main electricity grid when their panels did not produce enough.

They also needed to be able to export electricity back to the grid when their solar panels generated more than they needed.

Because of this, the cost of using the grid needed to be covered as part of the solar tariff, in the same way as a tariff for non-solar customers reflected the costs of getting electricity to their home.

When solar customers sold electricity back into the grid, Meridian paid them a unit rate similar to the price it cost it to buy a unit from the spot market to supply its customers.

“Our solar tariff has been in place for almost three years and it is competitive.”

Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority strategy general manager Jenny Lackey said the government agency advised anyone considering installing solar “to do your homework”.

“Our analysis is that it may take a very long time to get a return on your investment in solar.”

People should ask installers if their home got enough sunshine to get a good return on the investment.

Other homework included investigating how much electricity the household would need to buy, especially on cold, winter nights when the sun was not shining.

When considering a solar system, a maintenance cost should be factored in, she said.

People should investigate installing LED lighting, efficient heating and insulation in their homes.

“Those options are lower cost, save you money and are better for the planet.”

More information is available on the Energywise website