UK’s energy department officials under fire as political opposition to FiT proposals mounts

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UK energy secretary Amber Rudd and minister Andrea Leadsom have faced mounting pressure to revisit highly contentious feed-in tariff proposals as Members of Parliament (MPs) across the UK’s political parties criticised the plans.

Rudd and Leadsom spoke at this morning’s oral and topical questions session, the first since parliament’s summer recess and since the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) unveiled plans to cut the small-scale feed-in tariff by 87%.

Lisa Nandy, the newly-appointed shadow energy secretary, returned from maternity leave to question how the UK had slipped out of EY’s Renewable Energy Country Attractive Index’s top 10 for the first time in 12 years, claiming that the department had “no clear plan” for the UK’s energy sector. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas then weighed in by adding that the department had “taken a wrecking ball to the solar industry” with the recent policy upheaval and accused Rudd of attempting to justify the changes with waffle.

Rudd refuted both suggestions and said Lucas was “completely wrong” to suggest that the impacts of the cuts had not been taken into account before the proposals were published. She stood by her department’s assertions that it would be impossible to quantify the impact on jobs in the industry but did state that “all jobs in the sector are extremely important”.

Rudd then avoided a difficult line in questioning from Labour MP Ian Lucas who quizzed the secretary on how much the government is paying to solar businesses in damages following successful legal challenges to policy decisions between 2011 and 2012. Lucas said the Conservatives “have form in chaotic solar consultations” and indicated this one was no different.

Both Rudd and Leadsom were continually pushed to justify the proposals by various Labour and Scottish National Party MPs, however members of their own backbench also contributed to the criticism for the first time. Conservative MP Julian Stroud suggested that a “more tapered” degression would have been more appropriate for the solar industry and that the current plans would only result in a “rash of new applications”.

In what could constitute a softening of language from the secretary, Rudd said it was “too early to say what the outcome of the consultation will be” and that the department was “determined to identify the right level of solar subsidies to continue growth”.

It’s the second time in as many days that Conservative MPs have voiced concern over their own party’s actions in relation to the feed-in tariff after Mayor of London and MP for Uxbridge Boris Johnson spoke of his concern for the cuts and their impact on investor confidence during Mayor’s Question Time yesterday afternoon.

It has also been revealed that SNP MP and energy and climate change select committee chair Angus MacNeil addressed Amber Rudd last week to request a minister from within DECC appear before the committee to discuss this summer's policy announcements prior to the conference recess during the first two weeks of October, citing the committee's “dismay” over the proposals and “disappointment” that they were timed for two days after the House of Commons rose for summer recess.

Criticism of the proposals has continued to pile up from British industry. A joint letter to the secretary brokered by environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth and published this morning was signed by various stakeholders and multinational organisations such as Panasonic and DuPont, calling on the government to “urgently reconsider” the proposed cuts.

The UK's Solar Trade Association (STA) is amongst the signees and Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the STA, said: “The Government's proposals for British solar are extreme and they are damaging for both the industry and for consumers. Solar puts people and communities in control and the Government should back that – not take power from the people. It doesn't have to be like this, so we are reassured that so many organisations, from all walks of life, are joining our call for a rethink.”

“It is quite wrong to suggest we cannot afford to go solar. The truth is we cannot afford not to. It's hard to think of a greater waste of public money than building up a strong British solar industry, hailed by the Prime Minister as a success, and then pushing it over a cliff before it is ready to fly,” she added.

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