20 Jun 2017

Challenge to solar surcharge fails in court

8:38 pm on 20 June 2017

Hawke's Bay lines company Unison has won a legal battle to protect extra fees it imposed on electricity customers with solar panels in their homes.

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Photo: 123 RF

Unison runs power lines in Hawke's Bay, Taupō and Rotorua.

It argued the use of solar panels lowered normal electricity consumption, and so lowered the money payable to lines companies.

But lines companies would still need to maintain those wires for solar users at night or on dull days, and for non-solar users at all times.

Without the surcharge, there would be less money available to cover those costs.

The renewable energy company, Solar City, condemned it as a solar tax which it said would discourage people from using alternative energy.

Solar City then launched an official complaint and the Electricity Rulings Panel agreed to hear that challenge.

Unison then went to the High Court arguing the Rulings Panel had no jurisdiction to hear the case.

The case spurred a colourful protest last October, in which the musician Tiki Taane and Greenpeace supporters dumped 45,000 paper suns in the foyer of the Electricity Authority's head office.

In a judgement just issued, the High Court has agreed the case was outside the Rulings Panel's authority.

Solar City is considering its next move.

Greenpeace campaigner Kate Simcock said the High Court decision was disappointing as it allowed companies like Unison to continue penalising solar users.

"The fact that this ridiculous tax cannot be properly challenged shows that the electricity industry in New Zealand is not accountable to anyone," she said.

"It's morally repugnant that big electricity players are knowingly taking steps to slow the uptake of solar because they see it as a threat to their bottom line. It's time for the government to overhaul this diseased industry."

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