Green campaign group Friends of the Earth has welcomed government moves to cut solar subsidies under the Feed-in Tariff scheme by early March should their appeal court bid fail and reduce the uncertainty hanging over the industry.
The solar industry was left reeling – and 30,000 jobs thrown into jeopardy – when the government announced plans last year to abruptly cut payments for any solar scheme completed after 12 December 2011 – 11 days before an official consultation into the proposals had even closed.
Shortly before Christmas – following a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth and solar firms Solarcentury and HomeSun – the High Court ruled that the Government’s plans were illegal, saying ministers could only alter the payments after going through Parliamentary procedures – allowing industry time to plan for change.
Last week the government challenged the ruling in the Court of Appeal, and a decision is due within the next few weeks.
Friends of the Earth is also calling on ministers to boost certainty for solar by using the multi-million pound tax revenues generated by solar firms – enabling more homes, businesses and communities to switch to clean British energy.
Friends of the Earth’s executive director, Andy Atkins, said: “At last the government is taking steps to sort out some of the uncertainty that’s crippling a thriving UK industry – planned cuts will at last allow solar firms to start planning for the future.
“Solar payments should be cut in line with falling costs – but by trying to rush through payment before the consultation closed ministers created a shambolic mess that threatens 30,000 jobs and the future of the industry.
“Minsters must urgently use the millions of pounds in tax that solar firms generate to safeguard this industry and the jobs and businesses it has created.
“We must do more to protect cash-strapped families from soaring fuel bills – that’s why we’re campaigning for the government to fix our broken energy system and enable more people to plug into clean British energy.”
Seb Berry, head of public affairs at another of the High Court victors, Solarcentury, said: “The government is taking an important step today to restore some certainty to the PV market in the short-term, but it is no more than that.
“The elephant in the room for all FiT technologies, not just PV, remains the government’s decision to impose an unrealistic cap on the FiT scheme in 2010. Until that fundamental issue is addressed by the “greenest government ever” what we have today is no more than a temporary albeit welcome step forwards.”
And David Hunt of Eco Environments, added: “Generally we’re very pleased that they have progressed to put Plan B into place and not waited until the court case is decided.
“Whilst the domestic market won’t be entirely reassured, many will take comfort in this and may now proceed with installations.”
HomeSun ceo, Daniel Green, said: “This hugely successful industry was given an impossible time-frame of just six weeks to adapt to the deep cuts and a ‘reference’ date that was midway through the Feed-in Tariff consultation.
“We challenged this in The High Court as we felt it was unfair and unlawful. The High Court agreed but DECC wished to prolong the uncertainty caused by its proposals by going to The Court of Appeal.
“Our two questions are: if they lose in The Court of Appeal, will they continue the uncertainty they are claiming to dispel by threatening to go to The Supreme Court? And secondly, will they address the fact that their current proposals on the ‘Aggregator’ tariff relating to installations on privately-owned homes are unwarranted, discriminatory and unfair?”
And Phil McVan, md of Myriad CEG Power, added: “The fact that the Government has taken so long to come up with a Plan B just goes to show the level of confusion which now surrounds the industry.
“The irony is that if Plan B had been announced instead of Plan A last October, then the industry would have been able to adjust, plan for the future and move on.
“Even with a March 3 date, its timing will make it very difficult for companies to get any major projects through planning in time to take advantage of higher tariffs anyway.
“The government should be working to minimise the damage to the industry, ensure that poor and disadvantaged communities don’t miss out on the real benefits of solar energy and that robust businesses have an environment in which they can prosper and help the UK meet its green energy targets.”