‘Free’ solar power is worth fighting for

CONTACTED by this newspaper for comment about the Little Green Energy Company’s criticism of the consequences of a monopoly power utility escaping independent regulation, Guernsey Electricity wasted no time in setting out its stall.

Wealthy people able to install their own solar panels shouldn’t be able to benefit from being connected to a network that others pay for. It is a valid point. The more people stop paying for GEL power, the higher the burden proportionately on the remaining traditional customers.

That said, there are two significant problems with the utility’s proposed response of ducking out of the remit of the Guernsey Competition and Regulatory Authority and instead charging a 50:50 tariff of part fixed and part use fee.

The first is there’s no independent oversight of whether the move is justified or whether the 50:50 split is the correct one. Yes, it suits GEL’s purpose, otherwise it would not be being proposed, but it is certainly open to criticism of being monopolistic and unfairly weighted against competition.

No matter how rigorously the States’ Trading Supervisory Board has challenged the assumptions underpinning GEL’s calculation, its role as shareholder means it inevitably fails the ‘smell test’ of impartiality.

The second problem is this. Many island property owners would love to install solar panels and become green and sustainable but cannot afford the cost or, if a business, justify the payback period. A private company doing it for them at its expense is an offer too good to reject lightly.

From Guernsey’s perspective, it is a painless way of transitioning to a truly renewable source of electricity at no cost to the taxpayer, building in generating resilience and getting islanders involved in decarbonising the power they use.

In short, the benefits appear too good to risk losing in an either-or tussle between a utility that seeks to avoid regulation – and, by definition, competition – and a private business offering what customers clearly want.

States members have to be convinced that ending independent scrutiny of GEL really is in the best interests of islanders before agreeing to it.

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