A group of organisations today expressed shock at the fact that a New Zealand energy company is introducing a tax of up to 26% on solar power and batteries from today, April 1.

North Island energy provider Unison Energy will quietly introduce higher user lines and electricity charges on any new rooftop solar or battery system in the Hawkes Bay, Rotorua and Taupo area installed from 1 April. The tax will be extended to all solar power users on April 1, 2019.  It will increase customers’ bills by up to 26%, increasing them by between $128 and $258 a year.

Unison has held private, one-on-one meetings with solar energy companies, informing them of the move.

“Solar customers have already suffered after the power companies slashed the rate they pay for solar energy fed back into the grid. People are saving money and energy by installing solar power, doing their bit for the climate,” said Kevin Hunter of local Hawkes Bay solar business Cellpower.  “Isn’t this what we should all be working towards to limit climate change and reduce electricity costs?”

“Today might be April 1, but this is no joke,” said Executive Director of Greenpeace New Zealand, Russel Norman.  “That, in 2016, only months after the world agreed in Paris to reduce emissions to stop climate change, a New Zealand company is specifically taxing solar energy users is extraordinary – and wrong.”

In the US, the solar industry now employs more people than Facebook, Google and Amazon combined and is growing nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy. Here in New Zealand this clean technology industry is raidly growing, creating high value new jobs.

“In virtually every other nation in the OECD, solar power is subsidised to encourage uptake and clean tech job creation, yet here in New Zealand our monopoly power companies are taxing the technology to kill the industry at birth,”  said Brendan Winitana, Chairman of the Sustainable Electricity Association New Zealand (SEANZ).

“Solar power is now cheaper than retail power across our nation, which saves communities money and helps protect the environment.”

CEO of solarcity, Andrew Booth challenged the fairness of taxing an energy system like solar that has the same impact on reducing demand as other energy efficiency devices.

“What’s next?  If you take this to its logical conclusion, perhaps they should tax energy efficiency products– because by using a basket of simple technologies you can achieve the same demand reduction without impacting the winter peak.  Yet this new tax is only being levied on solar customers.

“Either reducing demand is an unfair avoidance of paying for the lines or it is not. The pricing strategies of the power companies are illogical and broken.  This is unfair, unjust and out of control.”

Energy Analyst Molly Melhuish said:

“Hawkes Bay is one of the sunniest places in NZ, and this move by Unison to tax the sun is a clear infringement of civil liberties and the rights of all kiwis to harvest and use energy from the sun to reduce energy bills.”

“Hawkes Bay makes New Zealand’s most efficient wood burners, but air quality regulation is suppressing use of even approved wood burners. Wood and solar together could integrate with electricity supply to reduce costs year round.

“Both Government and industry have vested interests in a growing electricity demand, because that gives the excuse for rising power prices. If only the industry would cooperate instead of competing with alternative fuels, New Zealand could enjoy 100% renewable – and affordable – household energy.”

Brendan Winitana added:

“It’s clear that Unison does not like the choices its customers are making.  Unison does not want to lose customers and revenue to solar companies.  But in New Zealand, we expect companies to respond to competition and innovation with better service, lower costs, and increased efficiency.   

“What Unison has done instead is anti-competitive, unlawful and a clear abuse of monopoly power against ordinary kiwis who are trying to reduce power bills and help stop climate change. It’s time our energy retailers moved with the times, instead of penalising innovation.”