Penalties for Solar – with and without

A chook farmer said I love my chooks, I tried to be responsible and I get kicked in the head. It is making us sick and the business will suffer. The sin – the family business wanted to install Solar Arrays 99kW of – trying to make it better all round.

The Background:

The chook farm (Poultry) is in the Barnaby Joyce/Kevin Anderson territory and the owners were trying to put to rest concerns over the industries practices. That is they wanted to build a better environment for their chooks. The attraction of going for Solar PV – because it made good sense and the flexibility of the installation would give the chooks the opportunity to live more of their existence in more comfortable digs. These solar panels allowed a bit of innovation in the design of the system and they could use the panels to shade the chooks. The extensions to the sheds would provide safe free space in a commercial environment.

You know what – he had a bad idea. The energy retailer said no way you cannot change your import profile. The energy retailers export part of the group – they would be the buyer of the export energy said – sorry cannot help you. The other end of the scale, being the solar supplier business said we couldn’t guarantee the small-scale renewable certificate price in the contract either. It follows that is an estimate only and the SRES is under review. Interestingly, at this point the discussion gets down to, is the government policy or the governments position that influences the price. After all it is the government policy that sets the price – and they have a position the market is influenced by the policy! We suspect they have not thought that through themselves either.

Here we had a bank-approved investment of greater than $300,000 to create a better place for the chooks and the environment hanging by a thread. The energy retail company that sold itself as having a customer charter to help you and the environment broke the thread.

Solar out, done, dusted – the chook farmer still had to run a business. Should we say business as usual – old sheds, no runs, no nirvana, just the same situation dollars are king.

They still need electricity – the most crucial need is the tunnel ventilation systems – half an hour without – 7000 chooks with heat exhaustion – gone.

After the energy retailer making it clear they are not interested, the cavalry comes from another retailer, they send out notices 1000CR, and the old retailer says we have no objections (initial resistance then they notify they have no objections to the new retailer) and the changeover happens – the difference in price is also outstanding and the chook farmer can now buy new equipment and build new facilities with the savings in the energy price – yes, they got a price so good – the difference could be put into improvements and make it better for the much loved chooks. It all looked like a ‘win win’ situation or should we say ‘cluck cluck’ – even a t-shirt is printed and proudly worn saying ‘cluck cluck’.

All goes well for a couple of months – then the letter. The old retailer demands $10,182.92. Those charges being listed as “adjustment Early Termination Fee – $9,257.20 and the remainder regulated fees and other government charges. They said the farmer broke their contract and fees are payable.

Extremely bazaar behavior is that the old retailer ignored requests for transparency of the charges and to explain how is was reasonable in the demand – in fact they have also ignored that the new retailer offered to give back the customer without penalty from them – you can assume the old retailer only wants the money. This is the same retailer who refused to entertain the new system without penalties according to their terms of contract. The term is generally called consumption caps or similar.

Maybe the old retailer sees it all as a lucky dip – a chance to double dip. As Co2Land Org posted in the story on selling short, 23 June 2014, they do not want the customer to consume as they have already resold the capacity and the penalty is ‘money for jam’ so to speak. Where it came to the Solar PV, maybe it was a long selling issue and they are exposed to having too much liability in the market and government inconsistency of their position or policy is causing some angst at the commercial level. However, it still seems very plausible they intend to double dip no matter what.

Now our chook farmer has a delicate situation – kill the purpose of innovation – blame the world – and give in. No they are not giving in – they really care – they love chooks – it is about giving the chooks a good life for ours too they say. But, does anyone else care! We bet a lot of farmers feel exactly the same!

Listed now are some of the problems they have to put up with in trying to communicate with the old retailer:

  • Sometimes they spell my name correctly, sometimes not and it may seem a small communication matter, but it is a communication issue.
  • They use common terms to mean other things. Even lawyers get confused with what is meant. We have gone from “No further action” to “discuss payment” being the same thing.
  • They have ignored our request to show the charges are reasonable.
  • Without our knowledge we were ‘deemed to be on contract called an Energy Service Agreement (ESA) which is what we are penalized for.
  • We will now very likely have notes on our credit reference that is adverse or at least noted.
  • Our new retailer wrote saying the old retailer lifted objections to the transfer.
  • The old retailer gamed by remaining silent to them intending to penalise while the changeover happened, and the dust to settle.
  • They remained silent on their plan, and they issued no written notice or objection.
  • It took so long to anyone to listen – then we get a sort of answer. Finally, an apology – I (singular) was on leave but the hanging out will continue sort of thing.
  • If you ring them twice in the space of 10 minutes you will get different answers to our questions.
  • They are fast to answer the phone, but very slow or hinder progress on complaints.

We have checked out the options and went to the government website ‘energy made easy’, and it suggests you lay your complaint with the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON).

Our want:

Go away old retailer, what has come back is bewildering and we believe wrong.