Lee and Warren Mullaly's electricity bill increased dramatically.
Lee and Warren Mullaly's electricity bill increased dramatically.

Change saw bills rise up to $1400

FOR the first year Lee and Warren Mullaly were thrilled.

Their new home on the New South Wales Mid North Coast had solar panels already installed and they were paying almost nothing for power.

The Mullalys, of Forster, were getting enough credits from sending excess power to the grid to cover most of their electricity use in the evenings when their solar panels were not generating energy.

But good things don't last, as they soon learned. A big change to tariffs in the NSW meant the couple started receiving bills of about $450 per quarter.

"It was a bit of a shock," Mrs Mullaly told news.com.au. "The government incentive finished and even though we were aware this was going to happen, we still thought our bills were going to be significantly lower."

The changes to the NSW feed-in tariffs has changed the financial equation for many households with solar.

Without a battery, the Mullalys only benefit from their solar panels during the day as the power produced has to be used straight away.

Anything they use in the evenings when their panels are not generating electricity has to come from the grid. Previously their bill was about $95 a quarter, so they are now paying about $1400 more a year than before.

Previously, the NSW Government offered generous feed-in tariffs that saw households paid 60c or 20c per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the electricity they provided to the grid but when it closed its Solar Bonus Scheme on 31 December, 2016, many households were left short.


Lee and Warren Mullaly's electricity bill was almost zero before the change.
Lee and Warren Mullaly's electricity bill was almost zero before the change.


But their bills increased dramatically.
But their bills increased dramatically.

Homeowners now have to rely on tariffs provided by electricity retailers and these are a lot lower and can vary. Some retailers don't offer any money to households for the energy they provide to the grid.

"It feels like we are being taken advantage of," Mrs Mullaly said.

"I don't think it's fair that they can take our power for a minimal amount but charge us increasing amounts for our power," she said. "It just seems like an uneven playing field."

IPART sets a recommended price but retailers don't have to follow this. This year the suggested benchmark dropped by 44 per cent due to lower than expected wholesale electricity prices.

Over the years, IPART's benchmark has gone from about 4.7-6.1 cents per kWh in 2015-16, to a high of 11.9-15 cents in 2017-18. This will now drop 44 per cent to 6.9-8.4 cents for 2018-19.

Solar expert and ShineHub co-founder Alex Georgiou said this year's changes to feed-in tariff rates could see households lose about $300 a year on a typical 5 kilowatt system.

"If a person is not home to use the solar power during the day, around 75 per cent of this is sent back to the grid," he said.

Last year, a typical householder could have made about $657 a year selling this power to the grid, at a price of 12 cents. This year this would drop to about $355 if they get 6.5 cents.

Storing this electricity in their battery could see them use their own power at night instead of buying electricity from the grid.

If she was considering a solar system now, Mrs Mullaly said she would definitely not do it without also installing a battery.

While Mrs Mullaly is considering buying a battery for her home, it's expensive to add the unit after solar panels have already been installed. She and her husband are semi-retired and are not sure if the outlay will be worth it for them.

"We've got to watch what we spend, we haven't got a lot of money coming in and we've got to weight up the benefits," Mrs Mullaly said.


Lee and Warren Mullaly outside their Forster home.
Lee and Warren Mullaly outside their Forster home.

Adding a battery to an existing system could cost between $4500 to $8000, depending on whether they want a hybrid inverter. This compares to $11,500 to $15,000 if the battery was installed at the same time as the solar panels.

At the moment Mrs Mullaly said they did everything possible to keep their electricity usage down, especially at night when the sun isn't shining.

"We never use our dishwasher at night and we do our washing when the sun is out," she said.

"We hardly ever turn our airconditioning on, so I'm a bit frightened about what our winter bill (will be) as we have ducted heating."

In order to conserve power, Mrs Mullaly said they turn their heater on in the afternoon to warm up the house before the sun sets and then turned it off, using blankets to keep warm while watching TV.

They also use lamps with power saving light bulbs instead of switching on overhead lights.

"We try using our power very sensibly but since the return (tariff) has done down, our power bills have risen substantially," she said.

"If you are thinking about getting panels you need to get a battery, because ultimately it will be a huge saving and will take the worry away."

- charis.chang@news.com.au | @charischang2