THOUSANDS of people could have their energy bills slashed under a $20 million solar loan program.
Households could save up to $520 a year under the Solar Saver program, which Darebin Council expanded to a further 2000 households recently.
Mayor Kim Le Cerf said the massive expansion would fulfil a commitment to double the amount of solar power generated in Darebin.
Under the program, participants pay nothing upfront for solar panels by taking a loan with the council, which is paid off through their rates bill. Pensioners and low-income earners pay no interest on the loan.
About 500 low-income homes and a handful of businesses signed on to the original program, which launched in 2013, generating a total 1778 kW of power.
The next round would preserve the pensioner discount but offer loans at interest to other eligible customers.
A council report anticipated significant demand, with almost 500 people on a waiting list.
Most households would save at least $100 a year, or up to $520 with the largest solar system.
Friends of the Earth spokesman Leigh Ewbank said the investment would help “kickstart climate change solutions”.
“With the Federal Government failing to act, we need more leadership from state and local government,” he said.
Preston man Colin Sutton signed up to Solar Saver in 2015 and said his power bill had plummeted since getting solar panels installed.
“This year I will save about $350, now that the feed-in tariff has gone up,” he said.
Mr Sutton said the interest-free loan made all the difference.
“Years ago I got a quote for putting solar in and it worked out that the break-even point was a very long time away,” he said.
“But with the loan being paid off in my rates interest free, it’s just fantastic.”
Councillors signed a $10 million contract with Northcote-based business EnviroGroup to handle the expansion, which will begin next July. Nine other companies competed for the contract.
The council said it would spend a further $10 million on the program in 2020.
This article first appeared in the Preston Leader on 2 October 2017