Let the sun shine in

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - OPENERS -

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.

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