Nelson City Council today launched The Solar Promise, a nationwide campaign encouraging all NZ councils to embrace solar solutions and make it easier for their communities to go solar.
Teaming up with the Nelson Environment Centre and SolarCity (an all-in-one solar power company), the council is calling for other councils around the country, as well as central government, to make solar energy more affordable.
thesolarpromise.org asks councils to sign a promise, committing to investigate a Solar Saver Scheme, waive resource consent fees or require all new building developments to incorporate renewable energy as part of their Promise. Individuals can sign up too, opting to write to their council or considering solar options for their own households.
Today nine mayors, led by Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio, held a briefing in Wellington to launch the campaign.
Miccio says that a 2008 feasibility study carried out in partnership with the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (EECA) and SolarCity showed the government’s solar grant alone was not enough to help communities go solar.
“The study was clear: families want the immediate cash benefits from solar’s savings, but they need to spread the cost of solar for it to be affordable,” he says. “From these needs, the Solar Saver Scheme was born - an innovative rates-based financing mechanism to help home owners spread the cost of going solar.”
The scheme was born in Nelson, where it has been operating since the study. The council chose to waive resource consent fees as a means to reduce barriers and therefore encourage households to install solar power in their homes. And it did so with considerable success. According to Miccio, in the first year of the scheme, “Nelson families put more solar systems on their roofs than the whole of Auckland City, immediately getting up to one week’s free power every month”.
“Nelson City Council’s pledge to The Solar Promise is to continue to waive resource consent fees for solar installation, retain the Solar Saver Scheme, and encourage all councils to consider a number of key solar policies in their upcoming Long Term Plan.”
“We believe the Solar Saver Scheme is a vital policy tool for all councils, to assist their communities to reduce their energy costs, while also helping to maximise the contribution from solar to our nation’s renewable energy target.”
So far, though, it’s baby steps for New Zealand. Currently the only financial support for households looking to invest in household solar power is a $1000 installation subsidy available through the EECA. The total cost of installation is approximately $6000.
Meanwhile, many countries around the world are surging ahead with feed-in tariffs, which enable households and organisations that generate renewable energy to sell any excess power on to the national grid, serving as a further financial incentive to invest in solar panels.
These have commenced in Australia, where each state offers a set rate for solar power buy-back. In Germany, feed-in tariffs policy generally provides the benchmark for other nations looking to do the same. The country’s sophisticated policy extends the guarantee of purchases to 20 years, allows utilities to participate in the scheme, and its buy-back rates are designed to decrease annually as solar energy becomes more affordable —known as ‘tariff degradation’.
Today eight other mayors were involved in the Solar Promise briefing in Wellington, along with Miccio, calling for other mayors and councils to get on board. These included:
- Hastings Mayor, and Local Government New Zealand President, Lawrence Yule, whose council is actively reviewing Nelson’s Solar Saver Scheme for its community.
- Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt, Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno and Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks. Their councils have endorsed their local economic development agency, Venture Southland, to run the country’s first regional solar pilot with the aim to debunk myths that solar water heating won't perform well in Southland. Their building control officers have also been trained in best practice for solar water heating installations.
Auckland City Council’s 250-home solar pilot scheme goes to tender today, with the goal of examining the performance and community support for a Solar Saver Scheme in the Auckland region.
Meridian Energy retail general manager Bill Highet says the company supports the Solar Promise as part of its commitment to renewable and sustainable energy.
“Electricity is fundamental to our economy and well-being, and new generation is required to meet growing electricity demand,” Highet says.
“Meridian believes that solar will play an increasing role in ensuring we are able to meet the renewable energy targets the government has set and we are very pleased to support this campaign.”
Kiwibank also signed up to the promise at the launch this morning, with marketing manager Peter Lowe saying “existing Kiwibank customers who want to go solar and are approved for a top-up to their current home loan will have the usual fee waived."
And while we're on the subject of solar, be sure to check out the Idealog story on one Kiwi who is at the heart of a Silicon Valley company making groundbreaking strides toward commercial solar cells which could radically reshape the global economy.