Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blogger faces fine over letter post

A 47-YEAR-OLD blogger from Mount Gambier claims he will be the first person in South Australia to be charged under the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption laws.

But the blogger, whose name cannot be published under the state’s ICAC legislation, will not be charged with corruption.

Anti-Corruption Branch officers from South Australian police raided his home on May 8 and seized his laptop computer for breaking the first rule of ICAC — talking about it on his blog.

The Australian has obtained a copy of the receipt police gave the blogger when they seized his ACER laptop and power cord, which are now classified as police “exhibits”.

In what could be a test case for the new laws, the blogger says police advised him he would be the first person in the state to be charged under section 56 of the ICAC Act — Publication of Information and Evidence — for blogging about an investigation.

He faces a $30,000 fine for breaching the act. “I was told, ‘Expect to be charged’, and that it was specific to that section,” he said.

“Obviously, I a m fairly concerned. I asked them what it was all about, and they said it’s about something you said on your blog about ICAC, but they wouldn’t tell me what. I have got no idea what is going on at this point.”

The man said he had since sought advice from community legal services, but lawyers were unsure of his rights given the charges had not yet been laid.

“My legal advice is that they don’t know, because no one has ever had this enacted against them.”

His blog, which is still active, publishes a letter from ICAC Commissioner Bruce Lander that reports on the outcome of an investigation launched after the man made a complaint to his local member of parliament. The letter said “No evidence has been located to substantiate any of the allegations” that were made by the man, and the file had been closed.

The blogger admitted he was critical of ICAC’s probe, but said he believed he should have a right to express an opinion about the authority.

“I put it to them (the ACB detectives) politely that I wished I lived in a state where two anti-corruption detectives had nothing better to do than come and get (me) for talking about ICAC,” he said. “It is just outrageous. The ICAC legislation is completely farcical.”

Attorney-General John Rau is considering changes to the same section of the act after Mr Lander criticised the legislation as too prohibitive.

“The act is so tightly drawn that it is an offence to publish information to anyone that a person is, or may be, reported to the ­Office of Public Integrity or the identity of the person who has been reported,” he said.


Qld solar tariffs under threat

QUEENSLAND homeowners who use solar panels could be worse off under laws that will no longer guarantee them a feed-in tariff of eight cents.

Laws due to be passed tonight will mean the responsibility for paying the tariff will switch from government-owned distributors to retailers after June 30.

And consumers will have to negotiate directly with their retailer for the price they are paid.

The Queensland Competition Authority will set a tariff rate for Ergon Energy customers in the immediate future, given the very limited competition outside the southeast corner.

Energy Minister Mark McArdle says the changes will lift the cost burden from the network businesses, making the scheme fairer for all Queensland consumers.

"It will put downward pressure on electricity prices," Mr McArdle told parliament.

"Feed-in tariff payments will not be cross subsidised by consumers, making the arrangement far more sustainable over the long term."

Electrical Trades Union state organiser Stuart Traill says the 40,000 consumers on the eight cents feed-in tariff will have little to no bargaining power with large energy corporations.

"They will be worse off, and a lot of them will be pensioners," he told AAP.

"And there will be job losses in the solar industry because there will be less incentives to move to solar now."

Mr Traill added the plan was ill considered, and the returns would be minuscule compared to how much could have been saved if the 44 cent feed-in tariff had been reformed.

The 44 cent tariff, paid to some 284,000 people who were first to sign up to the scheme, will remain unchanged.

Shadow Treasurer Curtis Pitt said the Opposition would not oppose the bill but said the Newman government had broken an election promise.

"The LNP promised the scheme would be safe and kept at the same rate," Mr Pitt told parliament.


Solar panels ‘are time bombs’

THE Coalition has likened the spate of house fires caused by allegedly faulty rooftop circuit-breakers to the pink batts fiasco, claiming Labor ignored warnings that subsidies for solar power would create a similar honey pot for dodgy operators.

As revealed by The Australian, Advancetech, the Queensland company that imported and sold 27,000 solar power DC isolators, went into receivership last Friday, leaving tens of thousands of homeowners to replace them in their rooftop arrays or risk a ­conflagration.

The Queensland and NSW governments have issued recall notices for the Avanco isolators after 70 of them burnt out, in some cases causing minor house fires.

Also recalled is a PVPower branded isolator imported and sold by Swiss electrotechnical products supplier DKSH, though that began in March at the instigation of the company.

Describing solar panels as “ticking time bombs”, Nationals senator Ron Boswell said there would be “possibly thousands” of other dangerous breakdowns.

The Queensland senator said the Labor government’s subsidy to encourage home owners to install solar panels, the Small-scale Renewable Energy Certificates scheme, led to an overheated market in which shoddy operators and cheap imports thrived.

“The flaws and waste associated with this scheme have been largely under the radar because of the scale of the personal tragedies associated with the pink batts fiasco, but as an exercise in silliness, waste, and maladministration, the solar scheme has been its absolute equal,” Senator Boswell said.

“It has a long way to go before it plays out, as systems installed age.

“Fire-prone isolators in rooftop solar arrays in Queensland and NSW are just the sort of problem Labor was warned about, and ignored, as it ramped up demand for its solar program in 2010.”

He quoted several experts who had given evidence to a Senate committee on the topic that year, including the chief executive of environmental credits trader Greenbank Environmental, Fiona O’Hehir, who said the subsidy gave rise to possible dodgy and dangerous installations.

“You would actually have DC generation on your roof, which can be as high as 120V DC. A flood of cheap imports into Australia could mean that we have significant risk,” she said at the time.

“If it continues at this rate, we will soon end up with a situation along the lines of the insulation program, which would be a disaster for the renewable energy industry.’’

The SREC scheme is still in place, though at a much reduced rate of subsidy, and is under review pending the outcome of the inquiry into renewable energy by businessman Dick Warburton.


Subsidies for clean energy to hit $21bn

SUBSIDIES for renewable energy schemes such as rooftop solar panels and wind farms will cost electricity consumers up to $21.6 billion by 2020, a new analysis has found.

A submission by the Minerals Council of Australia also warns that more gas- and coal-fired power stations could be mothballed or permanently closed as the renewable energy target puts pressure on the electricity market and slashes their revenues.

If this happens, retail electricity prices “can be expected to increase”, according to an economic analysis commissioned by the council which represents mining giants including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Glencore Xstrata.

The analysis also hits back at fresh claims by the clean energy sector that the RET will create up to 18,400 jobs by 2020, declaring “the most immediate effects” from subsidising the renewable sector are job losses as cheaper forms of energy are crowded out.

“Additional job losses can be expected to arise from the drain on economic activity as a result of higher electricity prices,” it finds.

Former Queensland treasurer Keith De Lacy — now one of the nation’s best-known company ­directors — declared it was “plain crazy” to have schemes such as the RET, solar feed-in tariffs and carbon tax that were driving up power bills.

“The Australian public keep complaining about the increases in the costs of living and this has become even more so since the budget,” Mr De Lacy told The Australian yesterday.

“But one of the biggest increases in cost has been the price of electricity ... It’s the most fundamental of services to the Aus­tralian public … These kind of things just make some people feel good but don’t achieve anything.

“They’ve got no place, I believe, in a modern economy.”

The comments add to pressure on the Coalition, given it is split over what to do about the RET.

According to the Principal Economics review commissioned by the Minerals Council, the RET scheme has an opportunity cost (money that could have been invested elsewhere) of more than $36bn by 2020-21.

The analysis finds that subsidies that are recovered through the sale of renewable ­energy certificates, which are ­directly passed on to consumers, could reach between $19.3bn and $21.6bn by 2020-21, covering part of the cost to build the ­infrastructure.

The miners are wielding the figures in a bid to convince the government-appointed RET review panel that the scheme is ­excessively costly for households and industry, and cannot continue the way it is.

“These are the additional costs paid by energy consumers: households, domestic firms and exporters such as the mining sector,” the council’s submission says.

The submission also warns that the RET will encumber business with “uncapped and high costs for subsidies”, particularly for the scheme for rooftop solar PV panels, “because of poor ­design and a series of inchoate policy shifts”.

In 2010, then federal minister Martin Ferguson said the RET was a “bonus to the renewable sector of the order of another $20bn to $30bn in commonwealth government support”.

The Australian Industry Group has called for the RET to be maintained, despite demands by some businesses that it be scrapped because it is expensive.

The AiGroup says that while the cost of building wind farms and solar panels is passed on to customers, extra energy from wind farms and solar panels has pushed down wholesale prices.

This has also been a key pillar of arguments by the Clean Energy Council, which is wielding its own research by ROAM Consulting that finds household energy prices would be $50 a year lower by 2020 with the RET, and that leaving it alone would create 18,400 jobs.

The Minerals Council has told the panel lower wholesale prices are not a “function of competitive forces but of government intervention”, are likely to be short-lived and undermine investments in coal- and gas-fired power stations needed for reliable electricity supplies.

The analysis points to power station retirements including the permanent shutdown of the Munmorah black coal power ­station in NSW and temporary closure of South Australia’s Playford.

“Overall retail price rises have therefore been lower than they otherwise would have been,’’ the analysis says.

Wholesale electricity prices are “likely to increase” if power generators that become unprofitable close. Minerals Council chief executive Brendan Pearson said access to cheap, reliable energy had been a “source of economic strength” for Australia. “This is no longer the case,” he said.

The analysis draws on previous modelling. It quotes estimates by SKM MMA for the Climate Change Authority in December 2012 that put the cost for buying certificates for large-scale renewables at $15.9bn by 2020-21 and for small-scale renewables at $3.4bn — totalling $19.3bn.

Like most of the figures cited in the new analysis, these are based on an assumption of no carbon price — which the analysis says is appropriate as the Abbott government has announced its plans to repeal it.

To get to the $21.6bn figure, the analysis cites modelling by ACIL Tasman for TRUenergy (now EnergyAustralia) — which wants the RET scaled back — that puts the subsidy for the small-scale scheme at $5.7bn.


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