New Zealand’s electricity watchdog is not fit for purpose and is working with big energy companies to destroy the future of rooftop solar power in New Zealand, according to Greenpeace NZ.

Yesterday, the Electricity Authority (EA) ruled that a controversial move by Hawke’s Bay lines company, Unison, to charge its solar users an extra fee was not in breach of any regulations.

The ruling came on the heel of public uproar, which saw formal complaints being laid with the authority, and a petition asking it to protect solar collecting more than 30,000 signatures in just three weeks.

Greenpeace climate campaigner, Simon Boxer, says the ruling now gives lines companies throughout the country the green light to follow Unison and put a tax on solar.

“This is a blatant move by the EA to wash its hands of protecting and promoting renewable energy like solar so that it can continue to massage New Zealand’s electricity monopoly,” he says.

“It’s no secret that the EA isn’t big a fan of solar. In the past it has even publicly advised New Zealanders not to rush into installing it. By giving the nod for Unison to penalise solar, the EA is effectively attempting to kill the uptake of solar in our near future.

“We’ve heard that many other lines companies are champing at the bit to issue similar charges, and the EA’s ruling means we’ll see these begin to roll out soon.”

Boxer says these extra charges are effectively a  “tax” on solar.

This is because the fee is a targeted and compulsory levy imposed on solar users in order to raise revenue for the lines company. As the deliverers of a public service, these companies are the functional equivalent of a governmental body, he says.

“The Government set up this monopolised business model of the electricity industry during the energy market reforms.

“It was a deliberate policy that resulted in the private profits of the electricity sector taking precedent over national environmental and social interests. It’s a policy that the EA has been basically set up to serve.”

But the point of a watchdog should be to serve the interests of New Zealanders, Boxer says, especially on the back of the Paris Climate Conference, where we pledged to curb our dirty emissions.

If it can’t do its job, it should be disestablished, he says.

“We must bring this electricity watchdog to heel. All burning of dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas has to stop within a few decades if we want to avoid runaway climate change. Every renewable energy option that helps this must be rolled out, and solar is a crucial part of that,” he says.