Has The Government Scored An Own Goal With Solar Energy

The sun has got his hat on and he’s walking out the door; the old song takes a less than jolly twist when it comes to the Government’s decrease in Feed-in-Tariffs (FiTs), lowered by half this month, so is that it for solar electricity’s sunny disposition? This is according to a report by Mark Cantrell.

Fights and disappointment have erupted over the government’s decision to cut Feed-in-Tariffs (FiTs). There have also been charges that the government has effectively shut down solar electricity generation on private residences and local authority buildings.

The cuts might kill the UK’s solar business “stone dead”,said one source when the Government originally revealed the reduced tariffs earlier this year.

“We will not go down without a fight,” said another. Interesting, but the government’s move to lower FiTs on solar PV installations by up to half has caused quite a stir.

In October, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) proposed lowering the tariff paid on systems of up to 4kW from 43.3 pence per kilowatt hour (kWh) to 21 pence per kWh from 12 December this year. It also recommended lowering the tariff payable to schemes between 4kW and 250kW. A “steadier, clearer and sustainable growth path” for the solar industry was cited as a reason for the regulation. But as far as its detractors are concerned, DECC has basically destroyed the business in order to save it.

The Local Government Association (LGA) argues that the majority of councils that had “imminent plans in the pipeline” have had to “pull the plug” on solar panel installations to residences, schools, leisure centres and town halls because of the cuts.

To illustrate how budget cuts have prompted a reassessment of solar power, look no further than Leeds City Council. An important council project to install 1,000 solar panels on appropriate public housing units was put on hold – practically terminated – shortly after the DECC statement because the cuts “mean our solar panel project is no longer viable,” the council stated.

Installing solar panels on social housing would have saved roughly £190 a year on fuel expenses for the average household, according to the LGA, but it stated that many councils had been forced to “cancel contracts and break promises” made to thousands of tenants. Those aiming to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and concerns like fuel poverty will find that DECC has effectively shifted the goal posts in their favour.

This government department’s blunders are being felt by local governments and residents, according to LGA Environment Board Chair David Parsons. “People look to their local council for assistance because they have faith in and rely on it. But failed assurances of funds from DECC have left local authorities unable to afford to meet the promises they made to tenants who would be left hundreds of pounds worse off as a result.”

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Also expressing worry is the National Housing Federation. The association fears the changes will “make large solar schemes in poorer neighbourhoods financially unviable”. Low rates will also “result in millions of tenants missing out on cheaper energy deals even though they would be paying an extra charge for the initiative,” as one commentator put it.

Councillors’ dissatisfaction has been muted in comparison to the cries of people hoping to make a living through solar power installations.

When DECC originally announced its plans, the installation industry reacted with anger. “Such deep tariff cuts would kill the UK solar industry stone dead,” said Howard Johns, of the Cut Don’t Kill campaign, a partnership of solar energy providers fronted by Solar Century.

The Solar Trade Association (STA) estimates the impact of the cuts might be the loss of roughly 11,000 employment nationally, based on a survey of 139 of its members. This indicates a decrease of around 42 percent in terms of jobs. According to the group, up to 33% of businesses could be forced to shut down.

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Jeremy Leggett, Solar Century’s chairman (he of the ‘fighting talk’ speak), said: “It is profoundly depressing that the greenest Government ever has after 18 months launched such an assault against a growing industry employing 25,000 people. I’d prefer to work with the Big Society to create more jobs than take the government to court, but they force us to do so. We have less than eight weeks but banks have eight years.

Councillor Parsons added: “This is going to have a major impact on families who could have benefitted from cheaper energy. Thousands of jobs will be lost if energy companies lose their contracts, as we’ve seen before. Councils were pushing the implementation of tens of thousands of solar panels on public buildings and the houses of individuals who could not afford to do it themselves. The Government has run the danger of losing trust in its green strategy by changing the goalposts at the last minute.

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Last Updated on December 29, 2021


Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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