SOLAR BONUS SCHEME
Motion Accorded Priority
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [3.45 p.m.], in reply: I thank the member Coffs Harbour, the member for Marrickville and the member for Lakemba for their contributions to this debate. It is somewhat ironic that the member for Lakemba has sought to characterise this debate as one fundamentally about honesty, particularly given the selective quotation of decisions made by members of the then Opposition in relation to the support given to the Solar Bonus Scheme. Indeed, the Government is supportive of solar energy and renewable energies, and Government members have always strongly argued that there is a need for a wider sustainable energy policy, not just small PV or photovoltaic schemes limited to households.
That was the basis upon which comments were made, which does not seem to be understood by the Opposition. We are supportive of solar energy as part of an appropriate mix of renewable energy. We have maintained our concerns about the levers in the former Labor Government's scheme. More importantly, we are concerned about Labor's failure to monitor and manage its own scheme once problems with the scheme emerged. That is the crucial issue in this debate. Regardless of the motivation, reasons or rationale for the introduction of the scheme, once cracks emerged and costs started to blow out, the Leader of the Opposition and other members of the then Labor Government failed to take action to bring the blowouts under control.
In October 2010 the review into the scheme forecast that installed capacity under the scheme would grow from about 25 megawatts at the scheme's start to almost 1,000 megawatts by the end of the scheme, if the scheme were to continue in its current form. The review also found that the scheme was costly and stated that action should be taken to reduce the scheme's costs, while continuing to support households and small businesses taking action against climate change. On 27 October 2010 the then Government announced that the tariff would be slashed from 60¢ to 20¢. It took three weeks before this reduction took effect. In those three weeks there was a rush on the scheme, as one would anticipate, and applications for 79 megawatts of capacity were submitted, subjecting taxpayers to an extra half a billion dollar liability in payments under the scheme. At the same time, Labor committed to a cap of 300 megawatts of connected capacity through the New South Wales Solar Bonus Scheme.
The then Labor Government sought to put a cap on the scheme to say: This far and no farther. Yet, once again, it failed to act. Having set a target, it failed to monitor the scheme and failed to take action to ensure that the scheme would be cut once the cap was reached. Network businesses showed a massive increase over the 300 megawatts cap for the next few months. As at 31 December 2010 applications had been made for 326 megawatts of solar power. By 25 February 2011 applications had been made for 329 megawatts. By 11 March 2011 applications had been made totalling 334 megawatts. By 25 March 2011, the eve of the State election, despite the then Government's announced 300 megawatts cap, applications had been made for 341 megawatts of solar energy under the scheme.
The scheme had blown out and the Labor Government had taken no action to control the spiralling costs. Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Labor prevaricated, too concerned about the election to take any action to stop the needless bleeding of taxpayer funds. The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal recommended that the New South Wales Government close the Solar Bonus Scheme to new participants. That action should have been taken a long time ago. The architect of the scheme, the now Leader of the Opposition, who is not present in the Chamber for this debate, must explain to the people of New South Wales why he took no action to stop the bleeding of costs. He must explain why he took no action to ensure that the scheme he devised did not burn a black hole in the budget bottom line. He must explain why he took no action to send a clear message to the people of New South Wales that the scheme had reached its cap.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.