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Residential Solar Power: Is The Income Taxable?

14 May 2010 18 Comments

There has been a bit of a storm in a teacup lately in the Australian press, claiming that all those people who “bought into the hype” and installed solar panels on their homes will now have to pay tax on the income they receive for any electricity generated.

Of course it’s very easy for the media to scare people and stir up reactionary outrage, but then when the situation turns out to be a little different, the reporters move on to the next football scandal and never bother to clarify the facts for their audience. People are left with the wrong idea, and the misinformation becomes “general knowledge”.

Even the article cited above contains a statement from the ATO that “Generally, no it’s not taxable – if you’re not carrying on a business.” But they don’t make that clear in the article, and still choose to run with the headline “Going solar has a few hidden extras”. Many news reports didn’t even bother to seek clarification from the ATO.

So, is solar power income taxable?

As the ATO spokesperson said, and as has been reported on numerous industry web sites, the income derived from a small solar system installed on an owner-occupied residential dwelling is generally not taxable. I have to cover myself, though, and state that this is not tax advice and you need to obtain your own advice based on your unique situation from your accountant or tax agent.

It sounds like people installing large systems with the intention of making money will be required to pay tax on the income, though. This also means they’ll be able to claim depreciation on the asset and the costs of maintaining their system, just like any other income-producing asset. With rising electricity prices and falling solar panel prices, these systems can be a good investment.

One interesting aspect of the income from solar power systems is that it is counted as income for social security purposes (see section titled “Feed in tariff income and social security”). This may impact pensions and other payments, so if you think you may be affected you should ring Centrelink and ask about it.

Share your solar power stories!

Do you have solar panels on your home? Or business? Are you grid-connected or standalone? What has been your experience so far? Are you having any hassles with utilities in getting your credits/payments?

Please leave your comments below!

18 Comments »

  • Jason said:

    Check out the Feed-on tarrifs wiki for the listing of what AU electricity retailers pay for feed-in rates http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed-intariffsin_Australia. In QLD, AGL currently has the best feed-in rate at 52c. Of course, I am now envious of NSW as the state government there has an even better feed-in rate than QLD. By the way I am now solar too (1.5kW). Need to do a post about this.

  • Darren (author) said:

    @Jason: Thanks for the link! Yeah, we have a little better feed-in tariff, but you had an awesome purchase scheme. I’m still trying to get my system moved to the new house – long story.

  • James Robertson said:

    Good timing! I’m hoping that Energy Australia will be turning up on Monday morning to install our feed-in meter for our new 1.6kW solar system. I had heard some gossip about paying tax, so you’ve put my mind at rest 🙂

  • Darren (author) said:

    @James: Good luck with the installation! Is it cloudy up there today? It’s cloudy here in Wollongong – you might have to wait to get any output! Let’s hope the rain isn’t set in for a week. If you were installing water tanks today, you’d have a month of sunshine :-).

    @Gavin: Thanks for that link to the private ruling. Very reassuring. This stuff is all very new, I guess, but it’s great that the government is making sensible decisions on how to handle it. There’s nothing worse than one department giving rebates to encourage something, and another discouraging it with taxes, fees, bureaucracy or whatever!

  • Gavin said:

    Hi Darren,

    Great post. I also did similar research about a month ago and talked to a friend in the ATO about it. He found this private tax ruling that backs up your post.

    Gav

  • Is solar energy taxable? « Lewisham House said:

    […] In the meantime, I came across a great post that answers the question: residential solar power: is the income taxable? […]

  • Bryan said:

    Hi Darren

    I am wondering how you came to choose the size of solar system that you installed?

    Bryan

  • Darren (author) said:

    @Bryan: It was easy – the government rebates topped out at 1 kW systems, so to go any higher was going to cost a lot more :-). I figured I’d get the small system at the time because it made economic sense, and then hopefully add to it later as finances allowed. Under the new rebate scheme, 1.5 kW seems to be the optimum size (at least in terms of cost/payback with rebates). That said, with the NSW feed-in tariff there’s still economic sense in going larger.

  • JamesW said:

    I recently had a 1.5kW system installed in NSW and am very happy especially with the Gross FIT through Energy Australia.

    I receive a part pension and have been made aware of Centrelink’s decision to count as income FIT received as a cheque or bank account credit, but NOT if your supplier nets your FIT against your usage bill.

    This seems to me to be a complete anomaly especially as EA will not give the choice of methods, quoting unspecified “legalities”.

    In essence this means I will lose half of the FIT as a reduction in my part pension and have a corresponding effect on my pay back period estimate.

    I spoke to my local federal member’s office who “researched” and told me what I already knew.

    As it happens, my EA ccontract finishes next month, so I am free to shop around, before renewing.

    Are all suppliers the same in this regard?

  • Darren (author) said:

    @JamesW: I had thought all suppliers would apply your solar income against your bill, and then either bill you or pay you the difference. I didn’t realise there were some that did it differently. Not being on a pension myself, it’s not an area that I’ve researched. I’d be very interested if you could let me know what you find out, and I’ll write it up as an article to help others.

  • JamesW said:

    @Darren I’ve checked a couple of other suppliers:

    Origin – will deduct up to $50 per quarter from your bill and send the balance by cheque.

    AGL – Will deduct the total FIT (@68c better than EA 66c) from your bill. If you end up in credit it will carry over and and surplus paid out once a year.

    Rates are the same for all suppliers in NSW as they are regulated. AGL will not give a discount (EA offering 5%) but doesn’t matter as they are crediting back the FIT. I would be free to move at anytime without penalty.

    Being retired I had opted out of TOU as (I think) my pattern of use would suit that). AGL will carry over that option.

    Looks like a no brainer.

    Comments welcome. I’m under contract until 5 July with EA

  • Darren (author) said:

    @JamesW: Wow, looks like you’ve done some legwork there! It sounds like you’ve found a decent supplier now, and it should work out well for you.

  • Boston Solar Installer said:

    It’s interesting to hear how “solar income” is treated in different parts of the world like Austrailia. In the United States, the IRS has not explicitly ruled on this issue so it remains unclear to most residents and businesses.

  • Gary B. said:

    Funny place Australia… ATO says not classed as income.. Centrelink says it is classed as income… What happens when I roll into the aged pension scheme having installed a system earlier? Is it classified as income for pension purposes? Gaz

  • Darren (author) said:

    @Gary: The ATO didn’t say it’s not classed as income, they said they don’t regard it as taxable income. There are other types of income that are not regarded as taxable by the ATO, but are counted as income by Centrelink, so this is nothing new.

    The Australian tax system (like most others!) can be confusing, and there are lots of things that aren’t obvious and don’t seem to make sense. The only way to answer your question is to ring Centrelink and explain your circumstances – and make sure you get their answer in writing!

  • jim stACk said:

    I have a 4 KW system and it makes more energy than I use in my home and plugin vehicle. I get credit from my local utility each month.

    My system doesn’t use any water unlike fossil fuel COAL and Natural gas. It make power when it’s needed most during the Peak Time of day.

    My system also doesn’t make any pollution or dangerous waste like a nuclear plant. Nuclear imports 95% of it uranium.

    I also don’t make any energy at night when utilities have excess they dump and waste. So I help the utility Off Peak by using a small amount of their excess energy.

    By using a plug in vehicle I get Feed In Transportation rates of $1 of American made clean enrgy the replaces a gallon of $3.15 (FEB 2011) gas that is 60% imported. So I help the economy and environment.

  • Darren (author) said:

    @Jim: That sounds good, and it sounds like you’re very happy with your system. Great stuff! Here in Australia we don’t have nuclear power (we export our uranium, but that’s a whole other story). Most of our power is from coal, which is not good at all. We’re blessed/cursed with abundant coal reserves, which makes coal power very cheap and alternative energy more expensive by comparison.

  • Clement Kuzia said:

    I agree, but we all need to appreciate that adding Solar on their property is an purchase which will raise the actual valuation of their residence if / when they decide to sell. With the environment the way it is going we are unable to disregard any product or service that provides zero cost energy at no cost to both the consumer and more notably the world!