Opposition Leader John Robertson.
Opposition Leader John Robertson. JoJo Newby

Heat on Robertson

FACING attacks for his part in the former Labor Government's potential $1.4 billion blowout of the Solar Bonus Scheme, Opposition leader John Robertson said yesterday the scheme received the full support of the Coalition when it went before Parliament in November 2009.

A report by NSW Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat released yesterday said the Government had grossly underestimated the cost of the scheme and the number of people that would install solar systems under the generous 60c/kw price on offer.

"The scheme lacked the most elementary operational controls, had no overall plan and risks were poorly managed," Mr Achterstraat said. "I anticipate that the total tariffs to be paid under the scheme will be between $1.05 billion and $1.75 billion.

"The most probable range will be between $1.25 billion and $1.44 billion, significantly more than the original $362 million estimate."

There are many variables that make it difficult to be certain about the cost of the five-year Solar Bonus Scheme: changing weather patterns, the quality of products and their installation all effect performance.

Mr Achterstraat estimated that by October 2010, if the scheme continued the way it was going, the cost would have reached $3.98 billion.

Acting Energy Minister Duncan Gay said the massive blowout amounted to "extraordinary incompetence" from the then Energy Minister John Robertson and former Premier Nathan Rees.

"John Robertson's incompetent handling of the Solar Bonus Scheme completely disqualifies him from ever being premier of this State with his hands on Treasury," he said.

Mr Robertson, who was in the Clarence Valley yesterday in support of Country Labor candidate for Clarence Peter Ellem, said the Government had no credibility on the issue of the Solar Bonus Scheme for several reasons.

"The now treasurer (Mike Baird) at the time said this scheme didn't go far enough; in fact he wanted it to be more generous to go further (to include gas and wind and be open to small business); he accused the Labor Party of stealing Coalition policy," he said.

"The scheme was taken up by people like Andrew Stoner, the now Deputy Premier, who snuck out the back door of Parliament on the day the scheme was being closed down to make sure he got his 60 cent per kilowatt hour.

"If they're so concerned about this, every single one of Barry O'Farrell's ministers who has got solar panels and is getting the 60 cents a kilowatt hour will stand in the Parliament tomorrow and say I am forgoing that fee."

Asked if it was fair to say the government voted for the scheme when it was initially budgeted for $360 million but blew out to $1.75 billion, Mr Robertson said: "The now Treasurer said it wasn't generous enough; it's a bit rich for the Government to come out today to attack."

Mr Robertson pointed out that the 130,000 households who had contributed to the 372 megawatts of renewable energy production had effectively delayed the need for new "baseload" coal-fired power stations by several years and estimated the cost of a 300-megawatt coal-fired power station was $1 billion.

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