Backlash to U.K. feed-in tariff review begins

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The backlash to the U.K. Government’s decision to launch a comprehensive review of its feed-in tariff on Monday has begun. Dissenting voices are becoming increasingly audible, with ministers publically bemoaning the coalition’s decision and airing fears about its long-term impact on the solar industry.

By raising the possibility that 50kW may be the new limit for subsidised PV installations, the government is jeopardising hundreds of community-scale schemes. This fear was echoed by the Labour MP, Alan Whitehead, during Energy and Climate Change Questions in the House of Commons on Thursday. “Everybody knows that anything marginally above 50kW is not large PV solar. The effect of the review will be to eliminate a large number of schools, hospitals and other facilities from the feed in tariff,” he said.

The review, which comes just 10 months after the FiT was established, also calls into question the coalition government’s commitment to solar, particularly after it emerged on Thursday that Energy Minister Charles Hendry is planning to offer homeowners council tax discounts or cheaper electricity as part a plan to increase the number of wind farms in Britain.

This runs contrary to previous government claims that it held no favourites when it came to renewable energy. The party line was that the market would decide which technology would prosper, but this week’s developments casts uncertainty over the veracity of this statement.

It was only two weeks ago that Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was happily photographed outside Sharp’s newly-expanded solar factory in Wales extolling the virtues of PV. “This is excellent news for the solar industry and for Sharp, which shows that green growth is a vital part of our economic recovery,” Huhne said.

And the uncertainty that will undoubtedly follow the FiT announcement is likely to end up “cutting the legs” from under not only the FiT scheme but also the entire U.K. industry, as outlined by the shadow minister for energy and climate change, Huw Irranca-Davies, in the Guardian on Thursday.

“The minister is shredding the certainty needed for investors, installers, and manufacturers – and with it, his green credentials,” Irranca-Davies said. “Huhne may not care about the fate of the UK's solar photovoltaic sector. But presumably he does care about the impact his stop-start approach to solar PV policy will have on the very same investors who are also being asked to back the green deal and the green investment bank. What investor in their right mind would commit to the UK when the government cannot be trusted to stop moving the goalposts every few months?”

Interestingly, during Energy and Climate Change Questions, Huhne also outlined the U.K.’s desire to speed up the shift to a low carbon economy by getting off the ‘oil price hook’. However, the irony of this statement coming from a man who had put a stake through the heart of one of the country’s most viable renewable energy alternatives just a few days earlier was lost on the minister.

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