According to a review, the Victorian government has no idea whether its $1.3 billion solar panel rebate program has helped households save money or reduce climate emissions.
The Andrews government promised the Solar Homes Program prior to the 2018 state election as part of its plan to install solar panels on 650,000 homes over a ten-year period.
The scheme, which is administered by the government agency Solar Victoria, provides half-price solar panels and a $1,000 rebate on solar hot water systems installed in homes.
Over 100,000 households have benefited from the scheme to date.
However, an auditor-general report tabled in parliament on Thursday found Solar Victoria was unable to quantify the scheme’s success.
“Solar Vic is unable to report on the extent to which this $1.3 billion investment has reduced consumers’ electricity bills and carbon emissions,” the report stated.
“This is because, despite the program’s August 2018 start date, Solar Vic’s evaluation methodologies were finalized in April 2021.”
Additionally, the auditor-general discovered that neither the Premier and Cabinet nor the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning developed a comprehensive business case for the program prior to its launch.
“As a result, the government lacked sound and comprehensive information on the program’s merits,” the report stated.
Additionally, program planning was “deficient” because it failed to account for risks associated with excess demand, market reliance, and grid capacity.
Throughout 2019, the scheme’s popularity compelled the government to cap the number of subsidies distributed each month, effectively shutting down installers for weeks at a time.
“Inadequate demand management resulted in pauses in rebate rollout, posing workflow challenges for the solar industry,” the report stated.
“In addition, the program began with limited controls to address safety and quality risks, as well as fraud and grid constraints.”
Solar Victoria’s August 2020 safety audits discovered that approximately 33% of installations were not “installed to standard,” with approximately 2% deemed unsafe.
The auditor-review general’s of safety audits concluded in February that substandard installations have increased to nearly 37%.
Solar Victoria, the auditor-general reports, has made progress in addressing risks and scheduling rebate releases, as well as increasing its engagement with the industry.
Minister of Energy, Environment, and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio stated that the auditor general’s recommendations have been implemented in large part.
“The rollout was a complete success. Currently, 140,000 Victorians are benefiting from the benefits of having a solar panel on their roof, which results in significant cost savings,” she told reporters.