Electricity sector failing New Zealanders says solarcity CEO

Auckland, 19 June, 2017 - The government needs to change the way the electricity sector operates so it encourages clean energy technologies, says the CEO of New Zealand’s leading solar energy services, Solarcity.

Today the High Court released a decision that stops Solarcity from pursuing a complaint that a solar tax, introduced by lines company Unison Networks, breached the electricity industry code.

“That’s disappointing for Kiwis looking to embrace solar and energy efficiency as it means the electricity sector is able to make up its own rules without having to defend them in a hearing,” says Andrew Booth, CEO of Solarcity.

“We have been fighting too long for New Zealanders’ rights to challenge the legality of Unison’s tax which wrongfully disadvantages solar users.

“The current system is failing New Zealanders. We need the government to step in and ensure there is a level playing field so that solar, batteries and energy efficient technologies are encouraged. The electricity sector must take climate change into account and not penalise families that are trying to do the right thing for future generations.”

Booth says clean energy technologies will help make New Zealand’s energy network more resilient and shift the nation towards a government target of 90% renewable electricity by 2025.

“Right now the low levels of the South Island hydro lakes are causing concern. That’s only going to get worse with climate change. We need to be taking action now.”

Solarcity’s complaint about Unison’s solar tax has been at the centre of a legal wrangle since it was laid with Electricity Authority (EA) more than a year ago. Rejected by the EA, it won a full hearing from the Electricity Rulings Panel, an independent appeals body, which said the issues around Unison’s tariff needed to be “fully tested.” The decision to proceed with the hearing was challenged by Unison which was backed by the EA. The High Court ruled in Unison’s favour today.

Unison introduced its solar tax in April last year. It said its customers in Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua and Taupo areas that installed rooftop solar after April 1, 2016 would be charged an extra fee for their lines connection. It plans to extend that tax to all solar power users in its region from April 1, 2019. 

“Unison is discriminating against its smartest, most energy aware customers and is charging up to an extra $239 per year without providing any extra services. That effectively makes it a tax on solar,” says Booth.

“These kinds of approaches by monopolies to try to stop solar won’t work. Similar moves in Spain, Sweden and South Australia have all failed. Here in New Zealand Vector, Orion, Network Tasman and Powerco have told us they have no intention of introducing a solar tax.

At the end of last year Greenpeace delivered a petition signed by 45,000 Kiwis calling on the Electricity Authority to support solar energy and prohibit electricity providers from penalising solar users.