By Elias Hazou
LAWMAKERS threatened yesterday to use the budget for the Renewable Energy Sources (RES) fund as leverage on the government, forcing the latter to rethink its RES policy.
Members of the House commerce committee hinted they would decline to approve the RES budget for 2014 – yet to be submitted – should the government persist with apparent plans to curb the usage of domestic photovoltaic systems in favour of large-scale solar thermal energy.
Last week the energy regulator was informed by the government that it has revised its RES plan for 2014, by scaling back the total capacity allotted to PV systems for homes – also known as net metering – and for businesses to 13.5 megawatts (MW) from about 30MW as originally intended for 2014.
The reason cited for the change was a recent cabinet decision green-lighting the construction of two solar thermal parks of a combined capacity of 100 MW.
Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid. Since it was introduced last year, an estimated 3,000 households have installed small-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems. Whereas the government had initially indicated it would expand the capacity (and licenses granted) for PV this year compared to 2013, it then had a change of heart.
Parliamentarians, who had enthusiastically backed net metering, were none too impressed.
House commerce committee chairman Lefteris Christoforou (DISY) said he and his colleagues would use all the political leverage at their disposal to ensure that net metering, a socially beneficial policy, is not downgraded.
“We shall persist…no matter whatever objections, reactions or vested interests are in the way,” he pledged.
Net metering, he added, should not be subject to any restrictions, provided its usage does not imperil the stability of the electricity grid.
EDEK MP Giorgos Varnava spoke of a “new scandal in the making.” He did not elaborate, except to voice dismay over the cabinet’s complete reversal of policy.
In April 2013, said Varnava, the government – acting on a proposal by the ministries of agriculture and energy – determined that by 2019 the grid would produce 15MW from biomass, 225MW from PV, 175MW from wind parks and 25MW from solar thermal parks. Now, he said, the government was proposing 100MW for solar thermal parks alone, which would crowd out both domestic PV systems (net metering) as well as larger-scale PV parks.
Other MPs claimed that the energy regulator is opposed to the revised policy. The energy regulator itself has yet to comment publically on the matter.
The commerce committee will convene again next Monday to discuss the issue. The minister of commerce and energy has been asked to attend so legislators can grill him on the change in policy.