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Solarcity files legal complaint with Electricity Authority against Unison Energy’s “solar tax”

9 May, 2016 - Solarcity today filed a series of legal complaints with the Electricity Authority (EA), asking it to stop Hawke’s Bay lines company Unison Energy’s solar tax, on the grounds that it wrongfully disadvantages customers and is in clear breach of the Electricity Industry Participation Code. 

 Since the Unison Energy charge was publicised, solarcity has discovered that other lines companies have introduced - or are contemplating introducing - additional charges by stealth.  WEL Networks in the Waikato have added solar charges that tax customers for power they export for free to support our nation’s commitment to becoming 100% renewable.

“Solar power is no different from the energy saving efforts our power companies purport to support, like increasing energy efficiency and insulating homes,” said Andew Booth, solarcity CEO.  

“Internationally, both in the US and Australia, regulators are recommending solar because of the value they bring to the grid and consumers. In California it has been estimated that rooftop solar would deliver net societal benefits of more than $1.4bn annually – for solar and non-solar customers alike. These societal benefits include improved flexibility in grid planning and reliability which are some of the key reasons why Vector, the nation’s largest lines company supports and encourages solar.”

In its complaint to the EA, solarcity argues that Unison Energy’s decision last month to unilaterally increase charges that punish existing and new solar customers are discriminatory penalties that, for a customer, would add up to hundreds of dollars per year, and are out of step with our obligations under the recently signed Paris Climate Agreement. 

“While Unison doesn’t like the choices its customers are making, and doesn’t like losing revenue to solar, in New Zealand, we expect companies to respond to competition and innovation with better service, lower costs, and increased efficiency, not punish them with unfair charges,” said Booth. “What Unison – and indeed other companies – are doing is unacceptable, unlawful, and a clear abuse of monopoly power.” 

The complaint filed with the EA contends that Unison has violated two sections of the Electricity Industry Participation Code.  

Solarcity has also stated to the Electricity Authority that Unison’s solar charge is likely to see fewer people installing solar panels, leading to less take-up of renewable energy, and continued reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and gas, thus undermining the spirit of the Paris Agreement, signed last month by the Government.  

“New Zealand’s record on climate change, with the recent decision to keep Huntly open, is rapidly impacting our nations history of leadership, which has always seen us step up when the world needs us most,” said Booth. 

“Solar has an important role in building a 100% renewable future for our world  and climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming.

“One roof at a time, kiwis across the nation are showing they want to work together to win the planetary race to be the first to be 100% renewable. The Electricity Authority and the government must take decisive action to prevent them being taxed and marginalised by monopoly businesses who put profit before people and the environment.”