Sustainable Energy should be an option for all residents
By Eloise Parrab, Land Lease Communities Officer at the Tenants' Union of NSW
At the Tenants’ Union we are increasingly receiving calls from home owners who are finding roadblocks in the way of switching their homes to renewable energy in the form of rooftop solar panels. There are government programs available in NSW at the moment that make switching to solar energy an affordable option for many home owners in land lease communities. Unfortunately it’s not always an easy path if you want to have solar panels installed on your home.
Installing solar panels on your home requires the consent of the operator as it is considered an addition to the home under the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013. The operator’s consent cannot be unreasonably withheld and when consent is refused a home owner may need to do further investigation to determine if this is reasonable or not.
In some communities there are homes that already have solar installed. Furthermore, as solar becomes more popular and more affordable, increasing numbers of home owners wish to go down this path. However many operators are finding that their electricity infrastructure cannot cope – because it is old and poorly maintained. In those communities home owners are being refused consent to install solar panels and those that already have solar installed are being told they cannot add additional panels or repair broken panels.
The operator is responsible for the community’s utility infrastructure repairs, maintenance and necessary upgrades to ensure compliance with Australia Standards. Where there are solar panels being used in the community there needs to be a centralised protection system if the solar inverter capacity is to exceed 30 kW. The centralised protection system is a requirement under Australian Standard AS/NZS477.1. The 30kW capacity applies to both an individual home owner’s solar capacity and the total capacity of all solar installations in the community sharing the cabling and point of connection. In many communities we are finding that there is no centralised protection system and therefore home owners are being refused consent.
Some communities have a term in the site agreement about solar panels and in others there are community rules around the use of solar. The wording of this term or rule is often: “If you have installed or install solar panels we will not be liable to compensate you for any electricity that the solar panels feed back into our grid. We may disconnect the solar panels from our infrastructure if we are of the view that the solar panels are contributing to a deterioration of our infrastructure or are placing an unacceptable load on our infrastructure. We must give you 7 days notice of our intention to disconnect, which disconnection cost will be at your cost unless we agree to pay for it.”
We believe these additional terms and community rules should be prohibited and the NSW Government should legislate that home owners have a right to install solar panels on their home unless the operator can establish that this type of infrastructure is not suitable in the community. In addition there needs to be incentive programs established for operators in land lease communities to make changes to infrastructure to ensure it is friendly for sustainable energy.
Essential Energy, which is one of the 3 electrical distributors in NSW and covers the majority of regional and rural NSW customers, is looking at changes that can be made to help the system cope with the increase in the uptake of solar by their customers. Storage is crucial to allow solar energy to be stored for use during the evening when there is peak usage. One option for storage is behind- the-meter batteries, which are purchased by the household. There are two other types of batteries: batteries located on power poles and community batteries. If there is investment in power pole and community batteries then Essential Energy research shows we only need 32kmx32km of solar panels to power Australia. This is possible with batteries and large-scale energy storage schemes like pumped hydro.
Power pole and community batteries seem like viable options for land lease communities. If there were incentives for operators then these types of electricity storage options could work well within land lease communities. The NSW Government’s report into the Statutory Review of Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013 recommended that further work be done to remove the barriers for home owners wanting to switch to renewable energy.
Brand new purpose built land lease communities have the ability to build sustainable energy sources into the community at the time of development. In Melbourne there is a land lease community that is being built with integrated solar and its own centralised battery micro grid. We would like to see this as a planning requirement for any future land lease communities built in NSW. Minimum energy requirements for brand new manufactured homes should also be included.
Australian Story on ABC recently aired an episode, ‘The Transformer,’ looking at a community in NSW where they are working on a project to electrify the whole suburb and power it with renewables. It follows Saul Griffith, an Australian that is helping shape the world’s approach to managing the energy transition. If you are interested in learning more you can watch the episode on ABC iveiw. Project Electricity 2515 also has a website with more details: electrify2515.org
Many appliances in homes in land lease communities are run on gas. Part of the switch to renewable energy also means switching from gas appliances to electric appliances. The Government currently has a program providing incentives to people to switch from gas hot water to electric heat pumps. The same program is also providing incentives to switch household lights to LED and upgrade air conditioners. You can find out more at: www.energy.nsw.gov.au/households/rebates-grants-and-schemes
If residents of RLLCs continue to face barriers in switching to renewable energy then as energy costs rise it could mean they are left with crippling energy bills. We want to see sustainable energy options available for all home owners. This will require collaboration between home owners, operators and government.
This article was published in Outasite magazine issue 9. Outasite is published once or twice annually. Outasite Lite email newsletter is sent several times a year – subscribe here. All past issues are available in the archive.