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Western Australia Backs Down on Solar Feed-in Tariff Cut

Western Australia’s government today announced a reversal of its earlier decision to retrospectively halve its AUD $0.40/kWh feed-in tariff (FiT) for residential solar power, only four days after announcing it.

Premier Colin Barnett said in today’s weekly cabinet meeting that the decision to cut the FiT had been a mistake. In a statement he said, “Quite simply, we got this decision wrong and we have to fix it.”

The state’s budget, announced last Thursday, said the FiT would be retroactively halved to $0.20/kWh in a bid to save $51.2 million over the next four years. But since then MPs have been deluged with protests from angry voters, including a petition organised by solar advocacy group Solar Citizens which the group said gathered 8000 signatures in just three days. Solar Citizens also began a campaign to focus on unseating politicians holding marginal seats in solar-heavy areas. (Read our blog post from Nigel Morris of consultancy Solar Business Services, who was involved in the campaign, here.)

The strength of the protest caused a political firestorm, with The West Australian newspaper reporting that criticism even came from within the governing party. The paper said MP Rob Johnson threatened to vote with the opposition for the first time in a 20-year political career, while Liberal backbencher Peter Abetz accused the government of acting unethically. But the real surprise was the mobilisation of what the government estimates are 75,000 solar-owning voters in the state, which apparently frightened politicians in light of Australia’s upcoming federal election on 7 September. 

In his statement, Barnett said, “We have listened, and we appreciate the commitment that many people have made to take up renewable energy, like solar power.”

Barnett has denied that he was pressured into rescinding the Fit cut, saying he “was not prevailed on,” according to The Australian. But he also said, “You can’t ignore it. There’s an election on and it’s never good to have a controversy during an election campaign.”

Australia’s Sustainable Energy Association said it was “delighted” about the reversal, calling it a victory for the community and for renewable energy. "The government wildly underestimated the anger this would generate in the community, as we've seen over the last few days," said SEA chief executive Kirsten Rose. "It was an ill-considered decision in the first place. Reversing it is the right thing to do.”

Rose continued, "Credit to the Western Australian government for recognising the important role that residential solar PV plays in reducing our demand for non-renewably generated electricity, and in reducing the need for costly network upgrades. Our hope is that this will further reinforce to governments – in WA, across Australia, and globally – the high level of public support for renewable energy." 

A 2011 attempt to cut a solar FiT in New South Wales ended in what Warwick Johnston, chair of the PV Directorate of Australia's Clean Energy Council, called a “humiliating backdown.”

Lead image: Solar panels on suburban Australian home, via Shutterstock

Read more solar energy news here.

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