Let the sun shine in
The State Government has announced a $32 million boost in maintenance funding for schools. That’s around $32000 extra per school. It follows one governing council’s plan to levy parents $100 a year to cover a blow-out in its electricity bills and maintenance costs. The carbon tax and power price rises have pushed up your average bill, but your average school’s bill has gone up even more. So too have maintenance costs.
A big part of this is due to the Building the Education Revolution. A few years ago schools were frantically scrambling to get their student numbers up so they could work the funding formula to get a bigger slice of the pie. But build a big new million-dollar building and you build a big new energy and maintenance bill.
Many schools saw this coming and applied for a $50,000 grant from the $200 million on offer in the National Solar Schools Program. But that scheme, which began in 2008, has just taken its last round of applications. So while 100 per cent of schools have big new buildings and big new bills only about 40 per cent have grants for solar power to offset their new costs.
The Federal Government has now evaluated the program. One of the case studies is Cornerstone College at Mt Barker. It installed a 4.2kW solar system on its new environment centre. It has a web page that allows students to monitor the system and has incorporated it into its teaching program for maths, science, geography and sustainable living classes. The power bill for running the two new teaching facilities and its two offices is about $45 a month. No need to levy its parents for that.
There’s a lesson there for us all. I know an eco-architect who says many people won’t spend money to save money. He convinced me to invest in canvas awnings on my windows to ward off the summer heat, to put insulation in my roof space and a solar system on top of it. It’s an all-electric home but I haven’t had to pay a bill since. I don’t like to advertise this because it can upset those who don’t have or can’t afford to go solar or put in energy saving measures. There are also a lot of people who are bitter about having to pay higher charges to pay for those of us with solar systems.
It’s been an unusually cold winter and the forecast is for a new round of El Nino-driven summer heat waves. There are thousands of people on low and fixed incomes who put their health and even their lives at risk by going without heating and cooling, and they desperately need help.
Monica Oliphant, the immediate past president of the International Solar Energy Society, has a scheme to help them. The State Government subsidises low income earners $165 to $330 a year to help meet their energy bills. A solar system now costs as little as $1500, so why not put one on their roofs and use the subsidies to offset the cost? After it has paid for itself in as little as five years the government then saves a fortune by not having to pay out to SA Energy Concession Customers. The pensioners can end up bill-free too. For best part of a year she’s seen her “cost neutral” proposal pushed from department to department and from state government to federal and back again.
And for the rest of you who haven’t gone solar and who could afford to, maybe now’s the time to do it. One recent convert I know has a put up a 5kW system and is getting regular cheques from his electricity provider. He says getting the cheques is “like having a small oil well in his back yard”. He now wants to buy an electric car and run it on the excess solar he’s generating. Ian Henschke presents Mornings on 891 ABC Adelaide.