A number of Victorian solar companies are laying off staff after the Victorian Government placed a temporary freeze on a solar panel rebate program.
The $1.3 billion solar homes package started last August and has been so popular that the rebates for this financial year have been fully subscribed.
“We’ll spend the next few weeks processing existing applications in the system and working with the industry to complete the outstanding installations,” a Government spokesperson said.
There are currently more than 30,000 applications in the system and 10,000 rebates have already been paid.
A wider program will be rolled out on July 1 this year which will have, “even more rebates available, along with zero interest loans”, the spokesperson said.
However, since the freeze on new applications came into effect, the work for solar-installation companies like Sky Energy Systems of Melbourne has dried up.
The business’s directors, Sam Kent and Ross Howard, said they had no choice but to cut just over half the company’s staff when customers started cancelling their orders.
Twenty-five people have been told to finish up work on Friday and another 15 staff could go in two weeks’ time.
“Having no sales is like having no oxygen. You can’t breathe. There’s no business so it’s devastating,” Mr Kent said.
The company employed 40 full-time staff in Keysborough and last year won an industry award as top installer.
“Unfortunately we’ve had to make some tough calls. I’ve actually just got out of a meeting with management where we’re talking about how many will be let go,” Mr Kent said.
“It’s been quite dramatic, not only the cancellations but now the stagnation in sales.
“We do about 20 installations a week and the average sale is about $10,000. About half of those cancelled immediately.”
The Government spokesperson said there was still some work around for businesses, but Mr Kent said it was only enough to tide them over for about two weeks.
Sunrun Solar owner Tarak Shah had to lay off five of his 10 full-time staff from his Mount Waverly company this week.
“At first when it happened, I couldn’t sleep for a couple of nights, because you think of your staff as your family because they have their own families as well and they’re going to find it really hard,” he said.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re getting no business at all, customers just want to wait for the rebate, so nobody wants to sign up.”
“It’s going to be a really hard couple of months as a small business owner.”
Mr Shah lost eight customers overnight, when the Government announced the freeze.
He said he knows of three solar companies in Melbourne that have had to close their doors completely in the past week.
“You just think, ‘Is it really worth it to keep going? Or should I just shut the door and walk away from the business?’,” he said.
“It was a massive surprise, there was no communication from the Government that this is what they were planning to do, we expected we would have got a bit of notice as business owners, so we could plan ahead — it was a shock to the industry.”
A petition has been launched on the change.org website calling on the Victorian Government to reconsider the temporary rebate halt.
“Because consumers know that the rebate will return on July 1, they will be holding off making a purchase,” the petition said.
“For these small businesses to survive 15 weeks without sales is unlikely.”
Mr Kent said many other solar companies are based interstate, and use subcontractors in Victoria.
“They’ll disappear interstate until the rebates come back. They are companies that are basically rebate-based so they follow the rebates,” Mr Kent said.
“The other half of the parties are like us, or Mum-and-Dad-type operators who do very-high-quality work.
“For everyone here it’s a mission and as I said we’re a young team and we feel like we’re pulling together to make a difference in the solar industry.”
Mr Kent said the business had shrunk to a skeleton crew and if they survived the next few weeks they would move the business away from residential rebates because the system had become “too volatile”.
Opposition energy spokesman Ryan Smith said the State Government should find the money to continue the scheme until the end of the financial year.
“The problem with the way this has rolled out is that the cap was a surprise to the industry,” Mr Smith said.
“Daniel Andrews needs to step up, acknowledge that his ministers made a wrong decision and either keep the rebates going or detail to business how he’s going to support them, and indeed how he’s going to support the dozens of workers who are now without work.”
CEO of the Clean Energy Council Kane Thornton said the Victorian Government should reallocate some of the funding set aside for the next financial year, to use over the next two months.
“Freezing the rebate program has caused great distress in the industry,” he said.
“I’ve spoken to many businesses, many of them in rural and regional Victoria that are feeling the pain and have already started to reduce the number of people that work in their businesses.
“That’s ultimately because the sales of solar systems will come to a grinding halt through this 10-week period and unfortunately this means these businesses will lose revenue and they’re going to have to take some pretty drastic action as a result.”
Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Small Commercial, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems. Energy Stuff only uses CEC accredited installers and we fully comply with the Victorian Govt. Solar Rebate Program.
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