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Let the sunshine in: Perth printers

Thursday, 30 March 2017
By Print 21 Online Article

Scott Print, Aberdeen St, Perth

Printers using solar panels to cut thousands of dollars off their power bills say WA energy companies are preventing them from feeding their excess solar capacity back into the grid. 

“It’s certainly a frustrating situation,” says John Scott, joint general manager of leading WA offset and digital printer, Scott Print.

“We run about 12 and a half hours every day, Monday to Saturday, and we use over a million kilowatts a year so it’s an annual power bill of about $250,000. Our 70KW solar system, about 50 solar panels, cuts about ten per cent off our bill so that’s a fair saving.

“The problem is that when we’re not running, for example, on a Sunday, we’re not able to feed our excess capacity back into the grid. We are with Alinta Energy who do not allow it, and I believe Western Power generally don’t like solar either. So the excess just goes into the ground.

“It’s a bureaucratic barrier that adds to the list of barriers facing manufacturing businesses in WA and Australia. These are the kinds of things that contribute to pushing Australian manufacturing offshore,” says Scott.

“Funnily enough, excess domestic solar power does go back into the grid in WA and the consumer gets paid for that and can actually profit from it.” Regulation limits the size of household solar systems to five kilowatts of power and anything over that capacity rules out a feed-back deal.

The company’s investment in solar has paid off, says Scott. “We were very lucky to be one of the last to get 40 per cent funded by the Clean Energy Grant, which no longer exists. The investment payback period was about three or four years.”

Scott is looking into whether a battery storage system could solve the problem of excess capacity but says battery power remains expensive. “We’ve asked a local company selling batteries that can store 260-300 KW to carry out a feasibility study for us to how it would stack up commercially.”

Worldwide Printing Solutions, Cannington, Perth

Several other WA printers are facing a similar situation. Crystal Printing, trading as Worldwide Printing Solutions, runs a 99-kilowatt solar system made up of about 270 solar panels located on the grounds and the roof of its factory at Cannington in Perth’s south.

Managing director Arnold Whiteside says solar has significantly reduced the company’s power bill but his energy company, Western Power, “doesn’t seem to want or need” the excess capacity that could be produced on weekends when the factory is shut down.

“Our system produces about 27 per cent of our total usage, so our annual power bill is now about $150,000 a year. But to feed the excess solar back into the grid would require us to completely re-engineer our system and there’s no financial incentive for us to do that. Western Power offered us just $900 for all of the excess solar power we could generate in a year. If they wanted it, they would offer us more than that.”

The PIAA raised the issue of solar power in WA in recent meetings with federal politicians in Canberra.

“The fact that WA members who have invested heavily in solar are not allowed to feed excess capacity back into the grid is a silly, counter-intuitive situation,” says Mary Jo Fisher, the PIAA’s director of government relations. “We are not pushing any single source of energy but we are seeking government policy to sustain reliable energy at a stable price.”



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