UK PV sector on edge over possible policy changes


The United Kingdom’s solar and renewable energy sectors have blasted government plans to cut subsidies for solar farms.

According to local press reports, the government is expected to review the country’s support schemes for large-scale installations in the next few weeks.

PV farm operators in the U.K. are paid from fees levied on household energy bills. According to The Guardian newspaper, the owners of the approximately 200 solar farms across the country receive thousands of pounds under the subsidy program. That may soon change, however.

The U.K.’s Solar Trade Association expressed concern about a possible review of the Renewable Obligation (RO) and said it was expecting to soon meet with Secretary of State Ed Davey about the matter.

"The STA is seeking to get clarity for members from officials. Hundreds of millions of pounds is currently invested in projects not due to be built until next year and the STA is very concerned to safeguard investment as well as the health of the U.K. industry."

The trade organization added that support levels for ground-mounted solar already dropped 70% in the first two years of the feed-in tariff. “RO support levels for ground-mounted solar were equal to offshore wind two years ago, or 2 Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC), but have since dropped a further 30% since to the current 1.4 ROC.

"We are disappointed to read that DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] is launching another review on the solar industry," said STA CEO Paul Barwell. "Investor confidence and market stability is absolutely essential in order to deliver sustained cost reductions for consumers and a healthy solar industry for U.K. plc. We are obviously on tenterhooks to see what changes DECC is proposing to make."

Barwell added that the industry has been concerned about what appears to be a coming shift in support towards mid-scale rooftops when the U.K. policy framework is inadequate for these scales.

"We have been pressing for reforms to the user-friendly feed-in tariffs for nearly a year to address this, something that must now happen urgently. We hope DECC will announce a major increase in the amount of mid/large solar roofs that can be delivered under FITs. Any changes to the RO for roof-mounted solar would undermine this objective because it is delivering very little rooftop deployment."

Barwell also warned that a hasty push for cheap solar would come at the cost of achieving quality in the solar farm industry, which he stressed was essential to retain public support.

Likewise responding with alarm at the news was Nina Skorupska, chief exec of the U.K.’s Renewable Energy Association (REA). She said a new report by the organization "shows that where policies are clear and stable, our industry can attract investment, create jobs and increase U.K. green energy. We’ve seen this in renewable electricity and we’re beginning to see it in renewable heat too.

"We also emphasize though that drastic changes to policy – to which solar power is no stranger – can lead to job losses and damage investor confidence across the renewables industry. We urge DECC to tread very carefully if it does indeed plan to review the support mechanisms for large scale solar. This sector is creating jobs and bringing down costs rapidly."

The Guardian reported that, according to sources, the "overall level of support for solar will stay the same," which may mean that subsidies for ground-mounted installations will indeed decline while funding for rooftop arrays will rise. A consultation on the matter is expected in the coming weeks.

Speaking to newspaper, Nick Boyle, CEO of Lightsource Renewable Energy, one of the U.K.'s largest PV developers, warned that "constant tariff cuts and government pressure act to undermine the work we do to provide clean, secure energy and put into serious question the very momentum we have worked so hard to build."

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