QUESTION: Energy policies for public housing

In Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Human Services about the growing energy debt experienced by low income households.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Over the last few years an increasing number of public housing properties are being fitted with solar panels and batteries. That is a good thing and we look forward to more of it.

Last week, the Energy and Water Ombudsman, Mr Sandy Canale, reported a growing area of complaints to his office in relation to solar panel households whose systems would shut down during periods of low demand. This meant that households were being denied any feed-in tariff. In other words, unless they were at home and using the electricity generated from their solar panels themselves the power was effectively wasted, with no feed-in tariff being paid to the householder.

The other thing the Ombudsman reported was that about half of the so-called hardship customers were paying less off their debts than they were using in electricity, which meant their debt was continually rising. There were about 8,000 electricity customers in that category and the average debt was $1,668.

My questions are:

1. Is the Minister confident that all public housing tenants with solar panels are getting full value for their systems; in other words, that they don't fall into that category of people whose inverters are shutting down during periods of low demand?

2. What steps is the Government taking to arrest the growing energy debt being incurred by low income households, including those in public housing?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I thank the honourable member for his question. Yes, he has identified that there is a specific program for public housing properties to install solar panels, which is a cost of living that is of particular concern for the Government, particularly for low income households.

The commitment is that solar panels will be installed on 75 per cent of suitable Housing Authority properties. That, of course, is subject to the suitability of the property, which includes whether the building's physical structure can support the housing, the aspect of the roof and those sorts of issues.

The program will support the existing virtual power plant project, which involves a Tesla virtual power plant of solar and Powerwall home batteries. The phase 1 stage was the installation of 100 home energy systems to effectively have a trial so that we could test how well this works. That was expanded to a further 1,000 systems, which were all installed by December last year. We are in phase 3 now, which is based on the outcomes of those trials. We are looking at a further 3,000 systems. The Department for Energy and Mining is the lead agency for the program.

In relation to whether our Housing Trust clients are getting full value, I am not aware of those specific complaints being made about those systems. I will double-check with the authority as to whether there have been any issues raised. If there had been, then I imagine they would be raised with the Housing Authority because a lot of our tenants are obviously in fairly regular contact with the authority.

Given that it's a contract that's run through housing, it's quite closely kept with providers who the Government would regard as legitimate. If anybody has gone through the exercise of looking up solar providers, there is a monte of providers out there and it's incumbent on individuals to do a lot of research because there is a huge number of providers who are all in the market at the moment. Clearly, ours is a control, but I will double-check that and provide more advice to the honourable member.

In relation to energy for low income households, there is the Origin deal, which provides 20 per cent of people's electricity. This is for people who are eligible for energy concessions. So people are provided with the energy concession and they are also eligible to switch to Origin as their provider, which will provide 20 per cent off their electricity and 11 per cent off their gas. These are all some of the ways in which we are trying to reduce cost-of-living expenses for low income households.