Greenpeace gears up to fight NZ’s first-ever “solar tax” with launch of hot desk

Press release - June 21, 2016
Greenpeace NZ has pooled together its renewable energy and legal experts to create a solar hot desk service that will assist people stung by New Zealand’s first-ever charge for using solar.

In April, lines company Unison, which covers the Hawke’s Bay, Taupo and Rotorua, announced it would be increasing fees for any households generating their own electricity through technology like solar.

Greenpeace’s climate and energy campaigner, Simon Boxer, calls the move “a solar tax, through and through”.

“Unison and any other power company considering doing something similar should prepare for a fight,” he says.

Greenpeace will use the solar hot desk to offer advice to anyone affected by Unison’s solar penalty.

Boxer says this will include helping people challenge it by making a complaint to the Electricity Authority.

The solar hot desk follows last week’s launch of a national petition to the Electricity Authority on the issue, which has already surpassed 20,000 signatures.

“As the Electricity Authority is the watchdog of New Zealand’s power, we expect them to step up to the plate, protect solar and regulate to prohibit power providers from penalising solar users,” Boxer says.

“There is no word for this other than a tax. Unison claims solar users need to pay their fair share of the grid costs, but they already are. Like everyone, solar users contribute to the grid when they use it.”

The new fee means that if someone chooses to put solar on their roof in the Unison service area, they will now pay a higher rate for their electricity. It’s only aimed at solar, Boxer says. People who install a wood burner, gas fire or any other heating system in their home to lower their power bill will not have to pay the same fee.

“The most outrageous part about it is that solar power being generated today is actually strengthening local grids. The power solar users create is fed to their neighbours at very low cost compared to importing it from large power stations,” he says.

“It’s obvious that Unison’s solar tax is aimed at slowing and stopping solar adoption. Power providers want to stick to the status quo because it’s making them lots of money, and people generating their own energy threatens that.

“But come on - we’re in the midst of a climate crisis. 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 eliminate burning these fuels must be rolled out, and solar is a crucial part of that. It’s bizarre that we’re penalising people who want to use it.”

Unison’s solar charge follows a series of other moves by electricity heavyweights.

Two months ago, Genesis Energy announced it would keep burning coal at Huntly, New Zealand’s last coal-fired power station, until at least 2022, despite a previous promise to turn stop by 2018.

It’s understood the controversial deal was brokered in closed-door meetings between Genesis,  Huntly’s owner, and power companies including Meridian Energy.

Boxer expects to see more push-back on clean energy from the electricity sector in the near future.

“We’ve already heard whispers that Unison’s solar tax is just the thin end of the wedge. I wouldn’t be surprised if other lines companies around the country are right now preparing to do the same thing,” he says.

“They see that because solar power is at an early stage of adoption here, any new grid charges or unnecessary red tape will put people off. But if we can all fight Unison on this, the electricity industry will have to think twice.” 

Solar hot desk: