Representatives of Spain's solar industry protested outside a Barcelona prison on Wednesday against what they called the “criminalisation” of domestic solar energy use.

In an invitation to the protest organised by a number of energy industry groups including Eurosolar and the local energy cooperative Som Energia, the supporters said they would go to the prison to “hand themselves in”.

A number of major changes to the Spanish solar support landscape have been announced in recent weeks but Wednesday’s event was specifically to draw attention to plans for fines of up to €30 million (US$40 million) for people consuming solar energy not generated within the country’s oligopoly of energy companies.

“The criminalisation of the use of solar electricity for those citizens who want to produce their own energy is a direct attack on human rights and on energy democracy, thus preventing anyone from contributing to reducing emissions to avoid climate change,” said a statement read at the event.

"...Several organisations defending the right of citizens to use renewable energy to fight climate change, have decided to declare themselves 'guilty' of using solar energy for the generation of electricity. So they ask for the preventive imprisonment of their representatives as well as their solar kit and devices that make direct use of electricity generated by the sun."

Pictures posted on Twitter showed a small crowd of protestors, many with solar panels strapped to themselves, outside the prison while police watched on from the opposite side of the street.

Recent changes to electricity bills added a large levy to electricity customers using power from their own panels that would make electricity from the national grid cheaper. Anyone caught using solar panels that are registered for those tariffs will be subject to the multi-million euro fines.

Investors in solar were also hit with a cap on profits that has already triggered work to begin on a legal challenge.

The proposed profit cap, which works out at around 5-5.5% after tax, applies not to the electricity generated but to the initial investment. If the rate of borrowing underpinning a project is higher than this rate, it becomes impossible to generate any returns at all. 

The Spanish government is faced with dire economic circumstances, compounded by a deficit in its energy budget of €26 billion (US$34 billion) that was estimated to grow by €4.5 billion (US$5.9 billion) this year alone. 

It claimed the changes to its energy policies would save it €2.7 billion (US$3.6 billion) a year.

Tags: spain, europe, sun tax