Are electricity suppliers using bureaucratic barriers to avoid having to pay for rooftop solar power?

Electricity suppliers are making people with solar panels on their roofs jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops before their electricity can start earning them money. This benefits the suppliers since timewasting allows them to keep receiving free electricity for longer.

Since the start of 2020 people with solar panels are entitled to be paid for the electricity they ‘export’ to the grid under the terms of the ‘Smart Export Guarantee’ (SEG) administered by OFGEM. However, in order to receive payments, the electricity suppliers have to accept an application to be paid the SEG, and the various suppliers require what many might regard as timewasting bureaucratic tests to be applied before that happens. The result will be that the suppliers will get the electricity for free whilst the bureaucracy is completed, and indeed some requirements are so tiresome for the home generator that they may simply give up on applying at all.

I looked at the requirements for receiving the SEG from a range of suppliers, and they ask for widely different requirements – something which in itself questions whether most of them are needed at all. All of them require a copy of the (regulated) Microgeneration Certificate (MCS Certificate). This gives all the necessary details – the size and nature of the solar pv installation, name and address of the generator and the installer etc. But really, why do they even need this (MCS Certificate)? Surely the fact that they know whoever is paying the electricity bill is good enough to pay them for power sent to them!

Scottish Power offers one of the higher rates for exported solar pv – 5.5p/kWh, but I found its requirements to receive the SEG odd. In addition to the MCS Certificate they wanted: a) proof of ownership of the property itself ( or permission from the owner) and b) a schematic diagram of the solar installation if it had a battery

These things are irrelevant. The MCS certificate says who installed the system, and if the applicant is different to this, then the fact that they have a copy of the certificate is good evidence that they have permission to use the solar panels. But the electricity supplier does not have a legal duty to check this anyway, and if the [person is paying the bill, then what is the problem?

Of course, faced with all these bureaucratic obstacles the applicant may well just give up and let Scottish Power have the electricity for free, or at least the application is delayed so that Scottish Power will carry on getting the free electricity whilst the paperwork is collected. But Scottish Power is still able to market itself as offering one of the better tariff rates for exported solar pv.

I asked Scottish Power for a comment on this topic, but I have not received a response.

Octopus, who offer the highest SEG rate I could find (7.5p/kWh), did take the trouble to answer my media request. Octopus require to see a copy of a DNO consent form for the solar rooftop installation (which, confusingly, was not required by Scottish Power or some other suppliers). DNO stands for the Distribution Network Operator, in effect the regional grid operators. In fact consent is automatic for solar installations up to 3.68kW.

For installations bigger than this the DNO might visit the property and conduct a quick (free to the generator) analysis of the electricity connection. Or they may not even do this and just issue instructions to the installer. In many, mostly urban settings, this is just a formality.

But many would regard the requirement for small rooftop generators to contact the DNO to ask for a formal consent letter, and for the DNO to send one, as an administrative waste of time for all concerned. After all, solar electricity is still going to be sent to the grid; the only issue is whether the supplier gets it for free!

Dominic Bellamy, for Octopus, justified this requirement to be supplied with a  DNO consent notice by saying: ‘The DNO requires a copy of this permission letter to be able to set up an export meter in a customer’s home – and we need this export meter to put a customer on an export tariff with us. This is why we ask solar customers for the same proof before we begin the process of switching them to one of our export tariffs, as we know from experience that the DNO will reject the switch otherwise’.

This explanation has me scratching my head since only generators of at least 30 kW, (which will make up less than 1% of all rooftop solar generators according to OFGEM figures) need an export meter (as opposed to a normal smart meter). And they will probably have one anyway; and if at first they get rejected by the DNO for selling their electricity to Octopus, so what? It looks to me like a lot of people’s time is being wasted for a dubious notion of protecting hardly any consumers’ interests.

Other electricity suppliers require a variety of combinations of bureaucratic requirements. At the risk of repetition, any relevant information is covered by the MCS certificate which every generator is given as a regulatory requirement. The rest must surely be seen as self-interested timewasting nonsense from the electricity suppliers.

By David Toke

Sign the petition for mandatory solar panels on new buildings and fossil fuels to be banned in them. See the petition page here.

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