Government-backed feed-in tariffs aren't available in every state and territory, but where they are they're a really strong incentive for connecting solar, wind or other small-scale renewable generators to the grid.
The paperwork involved in collecting feed-in tariffs can be pretty harrowing if you don't know what's what. The internet is rife with stories of customers who haven't properly understood what it is they should do or expect, and of distributors and installers that haven't upheld their end of the bargain.
If your paperwork isn't submitted and processed correctly, you'll miss out on months worth of valuable payments for the energy you feed into the grid. In most cases your installer will help you through the necessary paperwork and everything will go smoothly, but it's worth knowing how everything's supposed to work to make sure that it's all done properly.
The different entities involved
There are three different entities that you'll deal with to get your feed in tariffs working properly. Your wind or solar installer will generally give you a hand to do the paperwork, but it's a good idea to know who does what - and what kinds of assurances you should seek to avoid costly processing delays:
- Supplier/Installer – This is who you buy the system from, and who should be installing it in your home. Unless for some reason you choose to go it alone, all the relevant paperwork should be handled by them with minimal input from you. They will contact the retailer and distributor and lodge your paperwork.
- Retailer – This is the company you will see on your power bills. Their responsibility is metering and billing and acting as a ‘face’ to the consumer. Different retailers may offer additional benefits for energy fed back into the grid on top of the standard tariffs, so shop around to see what’s on offer.
- Distributor – This is a company in charge of the part of the national power grid in your area. Think of the distributor as an electrical wholesaler from whom the retailers obtain their supply. The distributor maintains the lines and supply chain portion of an electrical connection.
How to claim feed-in tariffs:
After installation, here’s what you’ll need to ensure you can start claiming money back for your generated power:
1. Choose your retailer
This is an important step, and can be done before the system is installed if you choose. You will need to enter into a new contract with a retailer for feed-in tariffs to be factored into your bills. Shop around and choose very carefully, as changing your mind later can be costly if you need to break a contract. You will likely be changed to an on/off peak system. Tariffs and contributions will vary from state to state and from retailer to retailer, so you'll need to be sure you know what you're in for.
2. Check your meter
You will need to have a smart meter capable of reading both incoming and outgoing power (a 'bi-directional smart meter'). Many areas already have smart meters installed though, so check to make sure before you request a (potentially costly) call-out from your power distributor.
3. Complete and submit paperwork
Prior to installation, your installer and yourself must complete paperwork, which is then submitted to the energy distributor in your area. The paperwork itself will depend on the type of system you're applying for, which particular tariff you're eligible for, and the state in which you live.
In Victoria, for example, most solar setups are eligible for the transitional feed in tariff, which requires yourself and the installer to complete two parts of the Solar Connection Form (SCF). For solar systems greater than 5kW and for other alternative energy generator systems including wind turbines, you're eligible for the Standard Feed in Tariff. These forms need to be accompanied by a certificate of electrical safety (CES) - either filled out by the installer or a licensed electrician - and an Electrical Works Request (EWR).
In other states, similar forms will need to be filed - in Queensland the form you'll need to submit is an Application to Network Connect an Inverter Energy System (including Solar PV). In South Australia, it's the Application for PV SEG (Small Embedded Generator) Approval Reference form.
The contractor (or a licensed electrician) will typically test the system and complete a Certificate of Electrical Safety (CES), as well as an Electrical Works Request (EWR) and then submit this paperwork to the power distributor.
- While it's nice to assume that all the gruelling paperwork's been taken care of by your installer, that's not always the case.
To prevent heartache, it's not a bad idea to insist that your installer or retailer provide you with confirmation that all of the necessary paperwork has been received by the power distributor - and that the retailer has raised a service order with the distributor upon receipt. Ask for copies of all of these documents for your own records.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some cases, households miss out on several months worth of valuable electricity feed-in payments as a result of the forms not being properly submitted or received - and in most of these cases both the installer and the distributor vaguely deny any responsibility for the problem.
Being a bit diligent and ensuring that the paperwork's been properly received by the distributor (i.e. not just 'submitted' by the installer) will help you to avoid this hassle!
4. Meter configuration
The paperwork may take a while, but once it's been processed your meter will be read and configured to ensure that it's properly equipped to feed in electricity. Provided that everything's gone to plan, you should begin to see credit appearing on your bill for the the electricity that your PV or turbine system is generating.