UK Faces Growing Opposition to Solar Tariff Cuts

Moves by the UK government to abruptly slash feed-in tariffs for smaller and rooftop installations are coming under increasing pressure as opposition becomes more organized and gathers pace.

Pressure group Save Our Solar, which campaigns under the slogan “Cut don’t kill,” is mobilizing efforts through parliament by inviting interested parties to write to their MP (Member of Parliament) and call for them to visit local solar businesses and hear first-hand of the significant impact the revised policy as outlined will have on employment. “Across the country 25,000 jobs have been created in two years, despite the current economic situation. These jobs include high-tech manufacturing jobs but also significant numbers of installation jobs spread right across the country to get the panels onto buildings,” a draft letter from the group reads, adding: “However, all this could be destroyed if savage cuts to the rates of support are made too fast.”

Save Our Solar says it is also planning a “solar rally” to lobby parliament in London on 22 November.

The development comes as environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth says it is taking the government to court over its solar plans, in a legal challenge which follows the announcement that the lower feed-in tariff payments would apply to any installations completed after 12 December this year.

Friends of the Earth say this cut-off point, two weeks before the consultation ends, is unlawful and claims to have evidence that projects are already being abandoned and solar firm redundancies have either taken place or are being urgently considered.

The legal challenge was confirmed by the group after ministers failed to respond to a warning that unless the government agreed to amend its proposals it would commence court proceedings.

Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett said in a statement: “Ministers have failed to listen to our concerns about the legality of its plans to slash solar subsidies — we have now been left with no choice but to take the government to court. Slashing payments to any scheme completed after 12 December will unfairly pull the plug on thousands of clean energy schemes across the UK, preventing homes and communities from escaping soaring fuel bills. Ministers have pulled the rug from under the feet of one of the few areas of the economy that is creating new jobs — and completely undermined business confidence in clean energy.”

And, while opposition from the green movement may be anticipated, an unlikely alliance appears to have emerged with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also slamming the draconian nature of the tariff cuts.

In a speech about the UK’s need for an industrial policy, the CBI’s Director-General, John Cridland, labels the unexpected decision to cut solar feed-in tariffs (FITs) — even before the consultation period has ended — as “the latest in a string of government own goals.”

Addressing the CBI East Midlands Annual Dinner, Cridland said that the low-carbon sector — which has grown across the world throughout the recession — risks being derailed in the UK by unexpected changes, with the loss of thousands of jobs.

“As you all know, moving the goal posts doesn’t just destroy projects and jobs, it creates a mood of uncertainty that puts off investors and they wonder what’s coming next. Some companies have invested heavily in solar photovoltaic systems, and in the supply chains needed to install them. That commitment has been undermined by the feed-in tariff decision – and so industry trust and confidence in the government has evaporated. This bodes poorly for investment in future initiatives,” Cridland said, adding: “A new industrial policy needs to recognise the real-time costs of these decisions, and should set out a clear path that investors understand and can believe in.”

In a related development, a new survey undertaken by the UK’s Renewable Energy Association and the Solar Trade Association (REA/STA) has concluded that up to 11,000 solar jobs are already at risk in the UK. The survey, which was answered by 139 solar companies suggests the initial impact may result in employment levels falling by 42 percent, and some 33 percent of companies fear they may be forced to close. Furthermore, according to the survey 90 percent of companies believe the proposed cuts are too deep and too fast with 98 percent of companies alarmed by the government’s treatment of the UK solar industry.

PV Adviser Ray Noble said; “This sector has proved itself in just 18 months despite repeated upheavals. It surely now deserves the most enthusiastic political support. In addition to solar module price drops, the UK industry has cut installation costs up to 50 percent. At the very largest scale solar is now competitive with offshore wind. Domestic solar is delivering huge numbers of quality jobs. Solar has stimulated quite exceptional levels of community and business innovation. On top of all these benefits, if the government get fully behind this industry, solar will be cheaper than the prices households and businesses will be paying for electricity not long after this parliament. That will totally transform choice and competition in the UK electricity sector. The Chancellor must secure this industry’s future in his autumn statement. It is Alice in Wonderland to achieve such fantastic results and, given the remaining budget, find ourselves fearful for the very survival of the UK solar industry.”

REA and STA staff will be meeting ministers to discuss the situation in the coming days, they say.

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David Appleyard is a contributing editor. Formerly Editor in Chief of Renewable Energy World and sister renewable energy magazines Wind Technology, Large Scale Solar and HRW - Hydro Review Worldwide, now a freelance journalist and photographer contributing to a wide range of on-line and print publications. David has some 20 years' experience of writing about the renewable energy sector and is based in Europe.

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