Solar lobby rallies against sudden FIT changes

In what is the latest move in its publicity and political-action campaign against the government’s rapid and drastic cuts to its FIT scheme, the Solar Trade Association has called for people to write and email their member of Parliament in protest to the changes, before arriving today demanding a hearing in person.

In a democratic quirk, members of the public are permitted to turn up to the lower house of Parliament, the House of Commons, and request to see their Member of Parliament, by filling out a form known as a "green card". While it is not assured that each and every sitting member will be in attendance, Tuesday is considered the busiest day in the Commons.

Charlotte Webster, from the UK’s largest solar company Solarcentury, told pv magazine that a passionate and optimistic crowd of around 500 people have attended the rally. "We are representing thousands," she said.

The government’s FIT cuts would see the rate for all new photovoltaic installations qualifying for the FIT, smaller than four kilowatts, (kW) cut from 37.8 pence per kW hour (p/kWh) to 21 p/kWh. In what the solar industry believes is rubbing salt into the wounds, a deadline to qualify for the original tariff rate is only December 12. From when it was announced, this gave installers just six weeks to complete all booked installations.

Debbie Webb from Solon Energy, which has installed 400 megawatts (MW) of capacity around the country, told pv magazine the government’s decision as placing, "tremendous pressure" on installers and on the entire solar supply chain. "There is a huge problem of the levels of stock and what it’s doing is that it’s putting up prices hourly to be able to get the stocks."

"It’s put a lot of pressure on the industry and it’s just unfair, because of the timeframe!"

Labour taking up solar’s cause

It appears that Britain’s Opposition Party, the Labour Party, is taking up the cause of the solar industry also. Opposition Leader Ed Milliband turned up the rhetoric when he visited manufacturer, installer and integrator Solarcentury today, to highlight the plight of solar installers given just six weeks to complete installations.

"Solarcentury is a company doing the right thing. It has invested, innovated, researched, exported, manufactured, and created jobs. Now this productive job–creating and wealth-creating business is being strangled at birth because of the rank hypocrisy of this Government."

Labour also says that the government’s consultation process regarding the FIT is a "sham". Consultative practices set out a 12-week minimum timeframe for the process, while in this case it lasted only half that and is scheduled to end two weeks after the December 12 FIT cutoff date.

Environmental non-government organization Friends of the Earth is taking the government to court over the consultation process, saying that because the period ends before the cutoff date, it is unlawful. Solarcentury has also launched its own lawsuit, as a part of a coalition of companies, seeking an interim legal injunction against the cuts.

Taking the campaign viral

In an attempt to inspire protests and capture public sentiment through a variety of forums and mediums, the Solar Trade Association has produced and launched a viral video. In a cheeky approach, the video uses a speech given by Prime Minister David Cameron, when he was the Opposition Leader, in support of photovoltaics and a feed-in tariff, with shots of solar-industry employees miming Cameron’s words.

The Solar Trade Association is campaigning under the catch cry UK Solar Future. The campaign claims that 4,000 businesses and 25,000 solar jobs could be lost as a result of the FIT cuts.

Cuts fine, timeline not

Not everyone in the solar industry has been quite so pessimistic as to the chances for survival of the solar industry because of the cuts. Some companies were quick to speak out in support of the future for the industry under the reduced FIT rates. However, they were unanimous in condemning the six-week timeframe given for such a drastic change.