Sunny days ahead as town leads state's solar charge
AT THE warmest part of the average day, Echuca is more than two degrees hotter than Melbourne. And residents are far more likely than those further south to be capturing that heat with rooftop solar panels.
A breakdown of solar power across the country has found one in eight houses in Echuca has photovoltaic panels, the highest level in Victoria.
The top five Victorian solar postcodes includes other regional centres and outer suburbs: Wodonga, Emu Creek outside Bendigo, Drouin in Gippsland and Caroline Springs. But Victoria barely registers on the national list of areas embracing solar power. Echuca comes in 121st - well behind top-ranked Dubbo, where more than a quarter of houses have solar panels.
Renewable power advocates say the enthusiasm for solar power in country and lower-income areas challenges claims that government incentive schemes are ''middle-class welfare''.
Clean Energy Council policy manager Tim Sonnreich said while early solar adopters were mainly environmentalists, many in the past five years had been ''average working families'' wanting to counter the escalating cost of electricity.
''The people who are least sensitive to electricity bills have not been the ones that take up solar power because rising costs affect them less. That's why you see so few solar panels in Toorak,'' he said.
Mr Sonnreich said the rise of solar power in Echuca and Wodonga appeared to have been driven by local government campaigns promoting the technology. More sunlight may also have helped.
Peter Osmond installed a 1.5-kilowatt system on his Echuca home in September at a cost of $3200.
He estimates it will take four years to pay off through savings on bills. His first electricity bill was a $2 credit. ''I am not a greenie, but I see it as like banking money,'' he said.
More than 52,000 solar systems were installed in Victoria last year, compared with 48,000 before that. About one in 20 Victorian houses has panels, compared with nearly one in 10 nationally.
The solar surge followed the introduction in several states of feed-in-tariff schemes that guaranteed a premium for excess energy generated at home. All states later dropped or reduced their scheme amid claims solar power was an expensive way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. What the cuts to incentive schemes means for the solar market is unclear.
They have coincided with the cost of panels falling about two-thirds within three years.