Solar systems overload grids

Daniel MercerThe West Australian

Rooftop solar panels have become so popular in WA the systems are threatening to overload grids in a growing number of country towns, forcing the State Government to ban new installations.

Amid concern about the effects of household solar panels on electricity network infrastructure, it has emerged that several remote towns have had solar systems shut down to stop blackouts.

In its annual report, regional electricity provider Horizon Power said it had stopped accepting new solar installations in Esperance, Exmouth, Broome and "a number of other towns".

The interventions come after Carnarvon became one of the first centres in Australia to have its solar scheme suspended in 2011 because of unsustainably high demand.

Horizon managing director Frank Tudor praised the upside of renewable energy sources, saying in some towns they could provide electricity more cheaply than traditional sources.

Mr Tudor said the utility would look at whether consumers in towns where solar schemes had been closed were prepared to "trade some performance measures" in order to allow installations again.

However, he did not elaborate on which measures might be traded.

"We will work with the renewable energy industry to encourage the take-up of renewable energy in our high-cost-to-serve towns to reduce the extent of the State Government subsidy required," Mr Tudor said.

"We will respond to our customers' appetite for renewable energy, even in towns where network limitations prohibit the installation of additional renewable energy.

"Community willingness to trade some performance measures in order to accept more renewable energy will be explored."

Energy Minister Mike Nahan acknowledged the effects of solar demand on remote grids.

But he insisted that the State's main electricity grid - the South West Interconnected System - had the capacity to cope.

"It's going to require major new investment," Dr Nahan said.

Shadow energy minister Bill Johnston said the suspensions were symptomatic of a Government that did not have a plan to deal with solar demand.

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