Leading UK solar firms challenge government plans to end subsidies

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Leading U.K. firms Lark Energy, Orta Solar Farms, Solarcentury and TGC Renewables are challenging government plans to scrap the country’s renewable obligation (RO) program for solar farms larger than 5 MW beginning in April 2015 — two years earlier than planned.

The move has resulted in what many see as a mad dash for already approved projects to be completed before the April deadline; the increased momentum has largely driven the U.K.’s bustling solar sector this year, making it the fastest growing PV market in Europe.

The government plan is expected to stop the growing market for large-scale solar in its tracks, however.

According to The Guardian, the companies have requested a legal review of the government proposal. Quoted by the paper, TGC Renewables Managing Director Ben Cosh 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."

The U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is proposing the withdrawal of financial support for large-scale solar PV installations next year in an effort to control state spending and support the nationwide deployment of mid-scale and rooftop PV.

The U.K. solar industry is calling for the decision to be reversed, warning that it could result major job losses and cost the sector hundreds of millions of pounds, with many companies arguing that the plan is unlawful.

The U.K.’s Solar Trade Association (STA) has likewise taken issue with the plan, accusing the DECC of "singling out" solar power for the unfair withdrawal of financial support.

"The costs of solar power have kept on falling, in large part thanks to the growth and learning in our successful U.K. industry," said STA CEO Paul Barwell said in May, adding that the association had initially forecast that solar could be cheaper than onshore wind by 2018, but only with a stable policy sustaining a high-volume market.

Barwell also blasted the government for "moving to slow down solar’s cost reductions towards grid parity."

Cited by The Guardian, Cosh echoed the sentiment, saying, "All we need from [U.K. Energy and Climate Change Secretary] Ed Davey is stable and lawful policy, but instead he has yet again pulled the rug from under the industry’s feet."

The government will unveil its new contracts-for-difference program in April, which is to provide renewable energy operators certainty of a minimum electricity price over 15 years.

According to estimates by Berstein Research, the U.K.’s large-scale PV projects garner some £170 million a year from state subsidies.

The call for the judicial review of the proposal is the latest salvo by U.K. solar companies in their ongoing battle with the government and follows a legal victory in July. A High Court judge ruled last month that 14 solar companies seeking more than £130 million ($223 million) in damages following the government’s changes to the feed-in tariff (FIT) in 2011 were entitled to compensation.