Power company criticised over solar charge

Power company criticised over solar charge

A central North Island power company has sparked complaints over the introduction of an extra charge on solar power.

From today, Unison Energy is introducing a charge of up to 26 percent of a customer's bill for solar power and batteries -- equivalent to between $128 and $258 a year.

The extra charge kicks in immediately for new customers, and will be phased in for existing customers.

The new price category includes a low user option for those using less than 8000kWh/year.

Unison says it has to maintain and build a network for electricity to be supplied to houses at peak demand -- that's during winter nights, when most distributed generation systems like solar "are not helping to reduce the network peak".

"Effectively, distributed generation consumers can avoid a significant amount of their network charges based on the existing price structure, however Unison's costs of operating and maintaining the network to meet peak demand are not reduced, meaning solar consumers use of the network is effectively being subsidised by other consumers," the company says on its website.

The company says the charge means solar customers pay a "fair and equitable amount" of the cost to maintain the network.

But Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes says it appears to be a move to "protect their profits and old-fashioned business models".

"The industry is targeting and blaming solar for the things that they've been ignoring for decades, like the need for real-time pricing.

"Instead of penalising solar, lines companies should be charging what it actually costs to run the network at any given time of the day," he says.

The company has reportedly had one-on-one meetings with solar energy companies, to advise them about the extra cost.

Kevin Hunter, from Hawke's Bay solar company Cellpower, says companies have already cut the rate they pay solar customers for feeding back into the grid.

He says they're saving money and energy by installing solar power, and also helping the climate.

'Isn't this what we should be all working towards to limit climate change and reduce electricity costs?" he says.

Sustainable Electricity Association NZ chair Brendan Winitana says almost every other nation in the OECD subsidises solar power to create jobs and encourage customers to choose solar.

"Yet here in New Zealand our monopoly power companies are taxing the technology to kill the industry at birth," he says.

He called the new fee "anti-competitive, unlawful and a clear abuse of monopoly power".

Unison expects to refine its approach on distributed generation over time, including seasonal variation in prices or daily peak/off peak structures.

It says it's not the only distributor introducing such a charge, with the Electricity Authority encouring other companies to use service-based pricing.