Victorian Solar Homes rebate program overhaul urgently needed

Jo Kaptein, manager of the MASH and Hepburn Solar Bulk Buys

The MASH community solar bulk-buy team was all ready to go on August 1, at 9am prompt at four locations including Castlemaine and New Gisborne, to help bulk-buy participants submit their application for the state government’s $2225 Solar Homes program rebate.
We’d done the homework, watched the webinars, spoken at length to Solar Vic and prepped the customers so they knew what documents to bring. We thought we were just about as prepared as was possible.
At 9am, bulk-buy participants started receiving emails with their link to the portal. We had 10 people and 10 laptops on hand to help them navigate through the Solar Vic portal and get their rebate allocation before the monthly cap of 3767 rebates ran out.
We thought we had all bases covered. But that wasn’t the case.
The portal froze on us, pretty much every time an application was submitted. We called Solar Vic and got in a queue with a wait time of around 45 minutes. We pounded questions into their online bot and got absolutely nowhere.
Meanwhile the counter showing the number of rebates left was ticking down. And by 10.30am – in just one and a half hours – all the rebates had gone. That’s all solar rebates for the whole month of August!
Out of the 70-odd bulk-buy participants we were trying to help, only 20 or 30 got through (we’re still waiting for that number to be confirmed due to … guess what?… problems with the portal).
Not a great result for anyone – least of all those participants who missed out this month and will have to apply next month. And also for our installers – many of whom are local – who are reliant on customers getting the rebate in order to keep their businesses afloat.

What we are doing

For a start, we are leveraging our position as a not-for-profit that supports 13 councils across northern and central Vic to lobby Dan Andrews and his ministerial team to get changes made to both the process and the eligibility criteria.

Rebate program needs overhaul

A cap at 3767 rebates per month just isn’t enough. Demand is at least three to four times higher. What would be better, we reckon, is if the value of the rebate was reduced so that more rebates could be made available. Also, we believe the rebate should be targeted at those households that need it most – currently households earning up to $180k and living in a property worth up to $3m can apply for the rebate. That doesn’t seem right, particularly when you combine it with the cap.

Let’s all take action!

So, if you feel as strongly about this as we do, then send an email to your local member. For most people who read the Midland Express that will be Maree Edwards, state member for Bendigo West – at maree.edwards@parliament.vic.gov.au – or Mary-Anne Thomas, state member for Macedon – mary-anne.thomas@parliament.vic.gov.au – to tell them your views.

It’s got to be fixed

The Solar Homes program is supposed to help more people get solar and to move our state closer to a renewable energy future. In our opinion, at the moment it is proving to be detrimental to these goals. As much, or even more solar, would be installed without the rebate, we believe – as does most of the industry.
It causes stress to householders trying to get it, and it is jeopardising the Victorian solar industry. Many solar installers are already going out of business and if things don’t change, it’s likely that even more will go to the wall.
It’s time to take action and to let the state government know that this program needs to change.

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