UK solar firms launch fresh legal challenge against government

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Four UK solar developers have launched a Judicial Review against government proposals to remove renewable obligation (RO) support for large-scale solar.

Lark Energy, Orta Solar Farms, Solarcentury and TGC Renewables claim that the move by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to withdraw RO support for solar farms over 5MW from April 2015 is unlawful.

The Judicial Review represents the third legal challenge in as many years for the UK solar industry.

The companies have appointed Prospect Law to represent them in court. A spokesman from the legal firm who was responsible for the previous two legal challenges said: “The government put the RO in place to offer solar businesses the certainty they need through legislation, but now it is trying to remove this certainty through the back door.

“This behaviour was found to be unlawful in the case of feed-in tariffs, and it remains unlawful now. It is surprising that DECC has not learnt its lesson.”

The claimants have also challenged the need for the proposed ‘sudden and unilateral’ removal of RO support. The companies reject DECC’s claim that the consulted changes were necessary to preserve the budget; rather the companies believe that the changes are ‘designed to protect the offshore wind budget’.

Nearly 60% of the government’s total renewables budget has already been consumed by contracts awarded for biomass and offshore wind. The Judicial Review claimants note that both technologies generate more expensive electricity than solar and point to the National Audit Office’s recent review of Contract for Difference (CfD) funding which said that it was “not convinced” that consumers’ interests had been adequately protected during the award of £16.6 billion worth of contracts.  

Ben Cosh, managing director of TGC Renewables explained why he felt a legal challenge was necessary, he said: “Solar is tantalisingly close to becoming subsidy free, meaning cheaper bills for consumers, and we want to achieve this goal as quickly as possible. All we need from Ed Davey is stable and lawful policy, but instead he has yet again pulled the rug from under the industry’s feet.”

Responding to the news, Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the UK's Solar Trade Association, said: “Sadly we’re not surprised to see this legal action, which reflects the despair felt by large-scale solar developers across Britain at another sudden policy change from the government. This damaging interference comes despite record levels of public popularity and the record cost reductions achieved by the UK solar power industry.

“Solar in Britain is so close to becoming subsidy free, cheaper than wind and potentially cheaper than gas. This would mean cheaper bills for consumers and real competition to the Big Six, but it can only happen if the government gives solar stable, reliable support.”

The UK is set to be Europe's largest market this year.

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