‘Free’ solar offer could cost double, warns expert

By Luke Voogt

“Free” solar power systems from a Geelong “community” program could cost customers more than double the price of installing their own, industry figures have warned.

Sydney company ShineHub began marketing the program in May with a headline ‘Free System Solar’, which local electrician Michael Doyle described as “misleading”.

“Nothing is free. You’re paying for the system through the purchasing agreement,” Mr Doyle said

The plan offers free installation of one of ShineHub’s systems but requires customers to pay up to 33c per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the energy produced over the next 20 years.

“If they crunch the numbers they’ll realise it’s a very bad deal,” said Mr Doyle, a solar system installer.

According to Mr Doyle’s calculations, a 3kW system could cost customers about $26,017 over the 20 years.

ShineHub also sells 3kW systems for $10,799 to $11,999 upfront.

“I think their numbers don’t really add up,” Mr Doyle said.

“If a heap of people sign up to that and get rolled than obviously it’s not good for the solar industry.“

The plans involve a “low fixed rate“, according to ShineHub, which Mr Doyle also described as misleading.

The average electricity rate in Victoria, according to ShineHub’s website, is 21c/kWh but most plans have a higher rate.

They larger systems had lower per kWh rate but could still be costly for customers because they had to pay whether they used the power or not, Mr Doyle said.

Mr Doyle said the fixed-rate plan could harm local installers trying to “do the right thing” by customers.

But the company’s loan or upfront purchase options were good for the region and had created work for local installers.

About 800 people have attended 13 ShineHub forums across the Geelong region during May and June.

But ShineHub has made a number of changes to its marketing brochure since the first forum.

The company now offers a ‘Fixed Rate Solar Plan’ rather than ‘Free System Solar’.

Some community organisations have withdrawn their logos from the brochure, which an industry source attributed to complaints about the marketing.

The source attended two forums, which he described as “completely different sessions” due to the complaints.

“It’s almost like we’ve done the due diligence for them,” he said.

At a forum on Wednesday night ShineHub chief Alex Georgiou admitted a fixed rate plan would not suit regular holidaymakers.

He explained that customers would receive two bills, including one from ShineHub’s partner energy retailer GTL Reneweble, under the plan.

“None of that was clarified in that first session,” the source said.

According to Victorian Essential Services commission, GTL Energy received its licence to sell electricity on Tuesday.

Respected solar reviewer Finn Peacock this week described the fixed rate plan as the “most expensive way I can think of” to pay for solar.

The Indy requested comment from Mr Georgiou who was unavailable for an interview before the paper went to press.