Extra chairs were needed last night, when a large crowd gathered to discuss a national issue which Hawke's Bay power users seemed to be the guinea pig for. Green MP and energy spokesman Gareth Hughes joined Hawke's Bay Solar owner operator Jon Farquharson and Gold Power Solar business development manager Sebastian Nilsson to discuss how regulators and power companies should encourage solar technology, not place "unfair" charges on people with solar panels.
In April, Hawke's Bay electricity company Unison announced the introduction of an extra charge for people with solar panels or battery storage of up to 26 per cent of a customer's lines charges. It became the first lines company in New Zealand to increase line charges for households generating their own electricity, announcing higher fees for customers who use a combination of solar energy and the electricity grid in Hawke's Bay, Taupo and Rotorua.
At last night's meeting Mr Hughes said Unison's charges were "arbitrary, unfair, discriminatory, and are sending the wrong message".
"I'm calling on Unison to scrap the charges, and I'm calling for the Government to step up and show some leadership."
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"This isn't just a Hawke's Bay issue, this is a national issue," he said.
He also spoke of the challenges faced by the industry as technology advanced, and alternative (solutions) so consumers didn't have to "grapple with red tape". Mr Hughes later applauded Unison's courage for being the first company to make a move but said he wasn't sure if Hawke's Bay wanted to be the guinea pig.
Unison general manager business assurance Nathan Strong also spoke, saying it was important for Unison to front up and that he agreed with a lot of the statements made by other speakers on renewable energy. The charges had not been "a knee-jerk reaction", he said, but part of Unison's duty to look after all of their 110,000 customers on the network, including those who could not afford solar panels. "Everyone needs to pay their fair share," he said. Solar electricity users connected to its network had been subsidised by other power consumers so a lift in charges was needed. He said there was a challenge facing the industry in the long-term around how to pay for the infrastructure "to power New Zealand".