UPDATED: Solar industry lobby to march on UK parliament as legal action looms

Solar panels at dusk

Source: Wikimedia/GbbIT

By RTCC Staff

A group representing the UK solar industry will march on parliament in November 22, just five days before the UN COP17 talks begin in Durban.

The UK government is under increasing pressure to overturn a recent revision of its solar energy subsidies with business lobbies, environmental groups and politicians adding their voices to the discontent.

Having previously said changes would be enforced in March 2012, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced the new rates, around half the previous levels for some projects, would be effective as of December 12 this year. The Feed In Tariff (FIT) pays solar installations for the excess electricity that they generate.

Since the changes were announced on October 31, a lawsuit has been filed against DECC on behalf of the industry, the protest has been organised and an e-petition has been lodged. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, parliament is obliged to hold a debate on it in the House of Commons.

“It is profoundly depressing that the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ has after just 18 months launched such an assault against a growing industry employing 25,000 people,” said Jeremy Leggett, chairman of Solarcentury, part of the group taking legal action.

“I would much rather be helping to create many more jobs than taking the Government to court but sadly they leave us no choice.”

The UK government has binding commitments on both its carbon emissions and the proportion of power it generates from renewables and is heading to Durban as one of the more vocal advocates of a global binding deal.

Despite this, its domestic policy has come under fire – in particular from within the Liberal Democrats, part of the governing coalition, and from the CBI business lobby.

“Some companies have invested heavily in solar photovoltaic systems, and in the supply chains needed to install them,” said John Cridland, CBI Director-General.

“That commitment has been undermined by the feed-in tariff decision. Industry trust and confidence in the government has evaporated. This bodes poorly for investment in future initiatives. Moving the goal posts doesn’t just destroy projects and jobs, it creates a mood of uncertainty that puts off investors.”

DECC says the FITs had become unsustainable as the cost of solar PV installations dropped and take-up in the scheme accelerated. Despite this, the change in timing has led to dissent from within the Liberal Democrats.

Liberal Democrat William Powell, a member of the Welsh Assembly acknowledged the scheme was a victim of its own success but added: “I believe that by making this premature announcement, while the consultation on FITs reform is still underway, the UK Government is risking our long term renewable energy requirements for short term savings.”

The government is committed to raising its renewables energy consumption to 15% by 2020. A target of 30% is set by the EU. An estimated 6.7% is currently generated from renewables according to DECC.

The government has committed to large subsidies for offshore wind energy. This afternoon, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced £103 million in funding for the Scottish Renewables sector with marine and tidal energy set to benefit. A further £100m will be added to the Green Investment Bank.

The £203 million total was sourced from the Fossil Fuel Levy on the profits of the North Sea oil industry.

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