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Families burned by solar

May 21st, 2011 Australia

Solar sellouts

Steve and Angelina Gross with their kids Ben, 7, and Emma, 5, pictured outside their home in Quakers Hill. Picture: Tim Hunter
Source: The Sunday Telegraph

ORDINARY families across the state are furious government subsidies are under threat after paying up to $22,000 for solar panels in the hope they would one day have free electricity.

As Premier Barry O’Farrell’s plans to cut back the solar bonus rebate are set to spark a possible split in Caucus at Tuesday’s meeting, new figures show the top take-up of homes is highest in Western NSW and on the state’s Far North Coast.

About one in 10 homes are powered by solar energy in Dubbo in the state’s Central West, in Ballina and Brunswick on the state’s North Coast, with similar numbers for Bega on the NSW South Coast.

The O’Farrell Government has announced plans to slash the rates paid to households who generate solar electricity from their systems for the electricity grid from 60c per kilowatt hour to 40c until the scheme ends in 2016 in order to save $470 million. But the Government is battling a backlash from MPs who have been inundated with complaints from households.

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Jon Dee, founder of lobby group Do Something, said it was a myth most of those who had invested in the solar panel scheme were wealthy.

“We have many pensioners and low-income families who chose to invest, not just those from wealthy neighbourhoods,” he said.

“Quite a few are Liberal voters and many did this to protect themselves against rising energy costs.”

Former Liberal leader Peter Debnam, who did not contest the state election, is acting as the group’s policy adviser.

“I’m advising them behind the scenes on the best way to conduct their campaign,” Mr Debnam said yesterday.

“(Liberal backbencher) Catherine Cusack set it out the best: To apply retrospective legislation in a democracy is just plain repugnant, and that is completely correct.”

Quakers Hill father Steve Gross is one of 120,000 families across the state who thought he was onto a winner when he signed up to the then Labor government’s solar bonus scheme last September.

The maintenance fitter and his wife, Angelina, decided that with the government’s subsidy and the promise to buy the energy back at 60c per kilowatt hour, they could not only one day have their power bills paid for by the sun but do their bit for the planet.

So the family of five invested in a mighty six kilowatt solar panel system for $35,000, which was reduced to $28,000 with a government subsidy. They put down a $5500 deposit and took out a loan for $22,000, which would largely be paid for by the money generated by the system.

“We signed a contract with the government which stated that they would pay us 60c per kilowatt hour for the power we generated until 2017. We thought, ‘What could be more secure than a government-backed scheme?’