Low-income residents of Wollongong would be able to access interest-free loans to buy solar panels – funded by a coal miner’s debt – under a local council proposal from the Greens.
Coal money for solar power: it’s a policy even the most dedicated Greens member would only dream of. But that’s what the party’s Wollongong mayoral candidate Mithra Cox is calling for.
Beleaguered miner Wollongong Coal has owed the city council more than $400,000 for many years now, an unpaid security deposit for the mine at Russell Vale, dating back to when Gujarat NRE Coking Coal owned it.
“With energy prices rising sharply, people are hurting,” Ms Cox said. “Many people on low incomes can't afford to heat their homes in the winter, and are cutting back on essentials just to pay their electricity bills.
“Interest-free loans would enable people on low incomes to slash their energy bills, and repay the loan to council at a predictable and affordable amount.”
The loans would be available to people with a health care concession card, and renters would be eligible with a landlord’s assent. Ms Cox said council would own the panels until they had been paid off, and there would be no upfront cost to borrowers.
Debts repaid would go back into the fund to pay for another borrower’s panels.
“The $400,000 required to set up the solar fund would be paid for by council recouping $400,000 that is owed by Wollongong Coal in unpaid security bonds going back to 1991,” Ms Cox said.
“Council has not been proactive in seeking Wollongong Coal to pay their debts to council. If any other ratepayer had debts dating back to 1991, the debt collectors would be knocking on the front door. Council should treat Wollongong Coal just like any other ratepayer and insist they pay the money that is owed.”
If any other ratepayer had debts dating back to 1991, the debt collectors would be knocking on the front door.- Mithra Cox, Greens mayoral candidate
Council had been “assured of payment” for many years but the money was never handed over.
Eventually the council referred the matter to its solicitors for legal action last year – but as yet there is no indication there has been movement to settle the debt.