Solar looks bright in Bellingen
THREE weeks after the NSW Government’s solar summit, the promise of a solar program review still has not materialised and the solar industry is suffering job losses.
But not in Bellingen.
Instead Bellingen Solar has forged ahead and after 12 months of having a low profile shop front has now opened its doors at the northern end of Church Street to the sun and crowds.
Owner Steve Doyle said he was not worried about the current industry downturn, which he believed would only be short term.
“We have been in this business for a long time and there are always ups and downs,” Mr Doyle said.
“While there is a dip at the moment I believe we have a solid base and the future is bright.”
Mr Doyle said Bellingen Solar had “other irons in the fire” such as lighting and electrical contracting to tide them over until business picked up.
“With the strength of the Australian dollar the price of solar panels and systems are at an all time low, which is a plus and there is still a Federal Government rebate.
“Anyone who gets a system now will roll into whatever the next scheme turns out to be.”
The move to the new premises in the old blacksmith’s shed/Austin dealer/one-time gym with sprung dance-floor in Bellingen’s CBD has been a long time coming for the nine-year-old business, which started in the garage of the Emerald Beach home of Steve and his wife Emma Batkin.
“It was always the plan to have the business in Bellingen, it’s just taken a bit longer than we’d planned,” Mr Doyle laughed.
In fact the business spent another four years operating out of the family home/ shed at Crossmaglen.
“There were four vehicles, eight people and no forklift – all the panels were loaded and unloaded by hand and we could hear the phone ringing when we were in the lounge room at night.”
Now staff numbers have grown to 11 permanents and four casuals and the new premises even boasts a well-established edible garden.
“The garden is a real bonus – North Bank Community Garden offered to create it for us and we helped them install the solar system up at their garden.
“It’s such a great concept – the staff take salad leaves home whenever they want to and there is plenty left over for others.”
While the big fig tree beside the premises is not ideal for dawn-to-dusk solar power, Mr Doyle said with three separate systems the office was able to easily meet its three-phase power needs in the summer, feeding power back into the grid. In winter with shorter sunlight hours the balance tipped marginally the other way.
A big screen monitor in the showroom shows customers exactly how much power is being produced, used and fed back into the grid.
And as far as position is concerned, there is no doubt the Bellingen community has embraced the business with over 200 turning up for the opening celebrations.
A highlight of the event was the epic clash between Solar Active Man and Coal Fire Man – Sunny Boy came to the rescue and saved the day, much to the delight of the younger members of the audience.
Meanwhile peak bodies in the solar industry have agreed the industry cannot afford to compromise below the 1:1 fair price for solar. Under this model households that generate excess power through their solar systems are reimbursed for the clean energy they feed back into the grid.
CEO of the Australian Solar Energy Society, John Grimes, said people with solar systems should receive a fair price for the power they generate.