Register solar panels or face disconnections

Register small-scale embedded generation systems, such as rooftop solar photovoltaic panels, or face a fine or disconnection.

The City of Cape Town is being too “heavy handed” with threats of steep fines and supply disconnections to get people to register their solar panels before February next year, says Janine Myburgh, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“It’s time the City learnt that incentives work better than fines. It should be carrots first and the stick only if the incentives don’t work,” she says.

The City had initially adopted an enlightened approach to solar, a policy that had encouraged consumers to stay tied to the grid because it did not want to lose them as customers, she said.

“That was good thinking, but now we have warnings and threats. It is bad public relations and it is likely to anger many people. The result will be that many people will decide to go off grid and the City will lose out,” Ms Myburgh warned.

Philip Bam, chairman of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, asked whether the City was serious about encouraging saving of electricity and said building regulations should make room for the installation of photovoltaic (PV) panels on roofs.

Milnerton resident David Lipschitz, who writes the My Power Station blog, said people were being forced to register private assets that, in most cases, had no effect on the grid. And the R6 000 fine was excessive.

However, Leigh de Decker, of Constantia and Bright House Solar, said what the City was now insisting on had been law since 2010 and had been knowingly or, in some cases, unwittingly ignored by both homeowners and PV installers.

“The City is at the forefront internationally and is now playing catch-up. This is not a revenue-generating exercise or a tax in any form,” said Dr De Decker.

But Sandra Dickson, founder of Stop COCT, accused the City of “milking” residents with all sorts of levies and penalty fines.

“When the City made less money because people were saving more water, they introduced a water pipe levy. When the electricity income dropped, they came up with a fixed electricity surcharge of about R150,” she said.

Xanthea Limberg, Mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, says registration of small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) systems, such as rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) is internationally required and implemented in the interest of grid stability and safety for municipal workers.

Installations must be registered before Thursday February 28 or face a “service fee” of R6 425.90 for their disconnection.

Dr De Decker, who went off the grid in 2014, said a homeowner with an unregistered PV system could be held liable if a technician was killed or injured working on a power line it was feeding.

Grid-tied and off-grid solar PV systems had to be registered but not solar water heaters, she said.

Mr Lipschitz says the registration process had to be done by a professional engineer and could cost R5 000.

That was not the case in other countries such as Germany and America where people could qualify as solar installers and could sign off systems, he said.

Justin and Leanne Hewitt of Mowbray have registered, but “not without effort”, according to Mr Hewitt, an IT specialist.

They’re glad they’re did, especially now that debt-crippled Eskom has started loadshedding again while signalling that worse power-outage misery lies ahead. But they say current models for solar homes don’t give them much return on their investment.

* Eskom is seeking a stiff annual 15% tariff hike for direct Eskom customers and 17% to 20% one for municipal customers until 2022.

To start the registration process, visit www.capetown.gov.za/solarpv