Legal bid to stop ‘solar tax’ fails

The lines company has won this round

The High Court has today turned the lights off on a legal challenge to stop the so called ‘solar tax’ which a lines company is imposing on its customers with rooftop solar panels.

The High Court decision effectively stops Solarcity from pursuing a complaint that Unison Networks, breached the electricity industry code when it introduced its tax on solar.

Solarcity chief executive Andrew Booth says losing the appeal is disappointing for Kiwis looking to embrace solar and energy efficiency as it means the electricity sector is able to make up its own rules without having to defend them in a hearing.

"We have been fighting too long for New Zealanders’ rights to challenge the legality of Unison’s tax which wrongfully disadvantages solar users." Mr Booth says.

Unison introduced its solar tax in April last year telling its customers in Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua and Taupo who installed rooftop solar after April 1, 2016 they would be charged an extra fee of up to $239 per year for their lines connection.

It plans to extend that tax to all solar power users in its region from 1 April 2019.

Solarcity’s complaint about Unison’s solar tax has been at the centre of a legal wrangle since it was laid with Electricity Authority (EA) more than a year ago. Rejected by the EA, it won a full hearing from the Electricity Rulings Panel, an independent appeals body, which said the issues around Unison’s tariff needed to be "fully tested." The decision to proceed with the hearing was challenged by Unison which was backed by the EA. The High Court ruled in Unison’s favour today.

Mr Booth accuses the current system of failing New Zealanders and penalising those trying to do the right thing.

"We need the government to step in and ensure there is a level playing field so that solar, batteries and energy efficient technologies are encouraged," he says.

"The electricity sector must take climate change into account and not penalise families that are trying to do the right thing for future generations."

Mr Booth believes clean energy technologies will help make New Zealand’s energy network more resilient and shift the nation towards a government target of 90% renewable electricity by 2025.

"Right now the low levels of the South Island hydro lakes are causing concern. That’s only going to get worse with climate change. We need to be taking action now."

"Unison is discriminating against its smartest, most energy aware customers and is charging up to an extra $239 per year without providing any extra services. That effectively makes it a tax on solar," says Mr Booth.

"These kinds of approaches by monopolies to try to stop solar won’t work. Similar moves in Spain, Sweden and South Australia have all failed. Here in New Zealand Vector, Orion, Network Tasman and Powerco have told us they have no intention of introducing a solar tax.

At the end of last year Greenpeace delivered a petition signed by 45,000 Kiwis calling on the Electricity Authority to support solar energy and prohibit electricity providers from penalising solar users.

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