Cameron Urged To Give Solar ‘One More Push’

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

A coalition of over 150 businesses from the UK’s solar industry and beyond, have come together to warn David Cameron of what they describe as the ‘threat to Britain’s thriving solar industry’, posed by proposals to amend taxpayer funded, solar energy subsidies.  The letter was signed by a host of small businesses involved in solar, showing how the industry is made up of over 2,000 small and medium sized businesses, who collectively sustain 16,000 British jobs.

The letter comes on the day the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) closes its consultation on proposed changes to solar power subsidies. It is claimed that the proposals are already having a damaging effect on parts of the solar industry.

The letter highlights the critical importance of commercial and industrial roofs, as well as solar farms, in delivering low-cost solar. It urges the PM to secure the UK industry with an eye on a £78bn. pa global solar market anticipated by 2020.

The signatories underline what they describe as ‘the very positive benefits that solar parity will deliver for UK businesses including improving international competitiveness, lower energy price inflation and improved electricity sector competition’. Despite the vision set out in DECC’s own Solar PV Strategy of solar booming across large roofs, the Solar Trade Association (STA), who organised the letter, say the current policy framework is not enabling this to happen. The STA argues that the DECC consultation which closes today on Feed-In Tariffs, a support scheme it describes as ‘essential’ to the success of roof-top schemes, doesn’t address the policy failure on mid to large solar roofs.

Commenting on the letter, Solar Trade Association Chief Executive Paul Barwell says, “Solar is a home-grown solution to Britain’s energy crisis. If the Government provides a stable policy environment solar will soon be subsidy free. But the Government is now proposing to tilt the playing field against large-scale solar, while not taking sufficient action to unlock commercial rooftop solar – that is unacceptable.”

“We urge DECC not to close the Renewables Obligation to large-scale solar and to rethink proposals on Feed in Tariffs to allow a meaningful rooftop market which their own Solar PV Strategy recognises has such tremendous potential.”

“The level of policy uncertainty risks derailing the extraordinary progress the large-scale industry has made in delivering jobs and reducing technology costs in the last few years. It is also putting the UK’s position in the booming global solar market at risk. So serious are the implications of these consultations for the British solar industry that we are asking the Prime Minister to intervene. We only need one more push, one more period of policy stability to be able to compete with fossil fuels without support. That is the global race the PM needs to win for the UK economy and the climate.”

Jeremy Leggett, who is Chair of SolarAid and Non-Executive Chairman of SolarCentury and who will also be handing the letter over to Downing Street on behalf of the signatories says, “Despite all of the incredible achievements of the UK solar industry since 2010, it’s still very clear that the Whitehall mindset has yet to catch up. Too much of the wording in the current solar consultation has the whiff of Groundhog Day about it. It’s time that the government woke up to the fact that, with stable support, jobs rich UK solar will be cheaper than onshore wind during the next Parliament, opening up immense opportunities for UK PLC and driving down the costs of delivering the 2020 renewable energy target in the process.”

“Far from slamming the brakes on large-scale solar, the Prime Minister should be hailing it as one of Britain’s renewable energy success stories and getting behind it.  Instead he prefers to push fracking, even in National Parks.”

The two DECC consultations focus on controlling spending for large-scale PV within the Renewables Obligation and ‘promoting the deployment of midscale building-mounted solar PV’ under the FIT.

However the Solar Trade Association says that DECC’s claims that large-scale solar is a threat to the Renewables Obligation budget are ill-founded given solar currently accounts for just 5% of Renewables Obligation expenditure. The NAO has recently criticised DECC for awarding 58% of the entire 2020 renewables budget to just 7 projects (6 of which are understood to be more expensive than solar power). In addition DECC’s proposals to ‘promote’ the deployment of rooftop solar under FITs are wide off the mark on the essential changes necessary to enable the take-off of roof-top solar. The STA is urging DECC to produce a new consultation that properly addresses the barriers to roof-top solar deployment.