Panel supplier: Solar surcharge 'unfair'

Solar panel installation

A solar panel supplier has laid an official complaint with the Electricity Authority after a lines company upped its prices for people with solar panels installed.

Unison Networks, which supplies 110,000 customers in the Hawke's Bay, started charging new solar users an additional surcharge in April. Existing customers won't see a potential increase until prices are reviewed in 2019. It says they still have access to the traditional energy network as a backup, but aren't paying their fair share in maintaining it.

The move was heavily criticised by environmental campaigners and the Green Party, which said "our monopoly power companies are taxing the technology to kill the industry at birth".

Now Solarcity has asked the Electricity Authority to investigate, saying Unison has breached the Electricity Industry Participation Code.

"Solar power is no different from the energy saving efforts our power companies purport to support, like increasing energy efficiency and insulating homes," says chief executive Andrew Booth.

"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."

Solarcity says other lines companies appear to be following suit, "out of step with our obligations under the recently signed Paris Climate Agreement".

The Electricity Authority says it is assessing the complaint.

Unison says it is "surprised" by the complaint.

"We informed the Electricity Authority of our intentions to introduce a new Distributed Generation price category prior to its introduction," it said in a statement today. "We will of course work with them during their review of this alleged breach, and comply with their process."

Unison general manager of business assurance Nathan Strong said Unison would not be making further comment while the complaint is being reviewed.

"Also, while we understand that solar vendors are upset their customers will receive a lower subsidy from Unison, it is worth reminding our customers that a typical residential customer with solar will continue to pay lower annual charges under our new approach than a non-solar consumer."

New Unison customers will have the surcharge added immediately, while existing customers will be phased in from 2019.

Newshub.