Solar pledge gets too-dear sticker

A Green Party election year pledge to help households install solar panels could be particularly beneficial to people in sunny Marlborough, says Green list MP Steffan Browning.

Experts in the region agree solar panels can reduce power bills and believe businesses could benefit too.

The Green Party has promised cheap 15-year government loans to households that install solar panels, which they said would create typical savings of $100 a year on power costs. The election campaign pledge would see loans of up to $15,000 offered to those who installed the panels, to be repaid over 15 years through rates.

The loan, and the panels, would remain with the house when the property changed hands.

Mr Browning said the pledge focused on households but business owners might want to consider installing solar panels themselves to reap the benefits, given the number of sunshine hours in Marlborough.

The Greens also want excess power to be sold back into the national grid at a fair price, at a rate on par with what energy companies charge for energy.

"At the moment the gap is just too big and is off-putting to ratepayers," Mr Browning said.

Currently customers were getting a lot less than what was charged for electricity and, without legislation, they had no confirmation the companies would even pay them for the generated electricity, Mr Browning said.

Marlborough District Council financial services manager Murray South said the council had a solar water-heating scheme in place. The council provides funding to help ratepayers with the cost of installing solar water-heating, which is then recovered over nine years with rates payments.

The council approved the targeted rate scheme for solar water-heating, insulation and clean heating in 2010 but has not looked at extending the scheme further to solar power. "The high costs involved and the short lifespan of solar panels have made it something council won't be looking at, at present," Mr South said.

Solar Synergy Ltd director Ian Martella said solar panels differed radically in price, depending on the home and its orientation toward the sun. Solar panels for an average family home with a 3-kilowatt system would cost between $11,000 and $13,000.

"Realistically speaking, solar panels have not improved much but storage systems will hopefully.

"With solar - the bigger the investment, the bigger the payback. It is a fantastic investment, with a seven to nine year payback period," he said.

At the end of last year, Solar Synergy installed one of the biggest solar power systems in New Zealand at Marlborough winery Spy Valley Wines.

"They will see returns a lot faster with their 52kW solar power system compared with a family home," Mr Martella said.

However, he doubted the election pledge would become a reality due to the high costs.

The Marlborough Express