David Cameron stands firm on UK solar plans despite trade petition

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British Prime Minister David Cameron has stood firm in his response to a letter signed by a coalition of 150 businesses urging the government to give solar "one more push" towards a subsidy-free future.

Presented to Downing Street last month, the letter – organized and delivered by the U.K.’s Solar Trade Association (STA) and signed by 150 large and small businesses – urged the British government to reconsider its controversial decision to scrap the Renewable Obligations Certificate (ROC) for large-scale solar, and to rethink its proposals on the country’s feed-in tariff (FIT).

In a written response addressed to STA chief executive Paul Barwell and seen by pv magazine, Cameron reiterates his recognition of solar PV’s "potential to play a valuable part of the U.K.’s renewable energy mix", but outlines the importance of "maintaining strict control over the impact on consumer bills" in a nod to the Levy Control Framework (LCF) that is funded by energy bills and dictates the level of support steered towards renewable energy sources.

Cameron added that, "having considered a range of options", the government’s decision to close the ROC scheme for large-scale solar developments will continue as planned next March. “we believe that the Contracts for Difference (CfD) being introduced under Energy Market Reforms will provide a viable route to market for larger-scale solar PV going forward,” added the PM.

Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association, welcomed Mr. Cameron’s response and recognition of solar’s positive impact on the U.K.’s renewable energy landscap, but criticized the government’s continued failure to address the top end of the FIT and its muddled backing of the large-scale commercial rooftop sector.

"The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) own impact assessment shows that the changes they are proposing to the existing FITs will add only 5-15 of the largest rooftop schemes per year, and could lead to a cut in overall PV deployment by 2020 of 420 MW," said Greene.

In response to Cameron’s final paragraph that read "I hope that we can work together on laying the foundations for the successful future of the solar PV sector in the U.K.", Greene added: "Here is what we can do to work together: make absolutely sure that CfDs will work for solar, retain but review the existing ROC to ensure we don’t lose the level playing field for solar, and fix the FIT for large roofs as soon as possible."

Cameron confirmed in his letter that the government’s official response to the consultation overseen by DECC will be issued shortly. Last month, a DECC spokesperson told pv magazine that any changes in regulation and funding will always appear daunting at first, adding: “We are convinced that the U.K. solar PV sector will continue thriving when it switches support under the CfD regime for large-scale solar PV."

As the domestic sector gears up for next year’s changes, the U.K. solar landscape is being transformed in 2014, with the industry now surpassing 5 GW of installed PV capacity, of which more than 1 GW was added in the first six months of the year. However, many experts expect this pace to slow considerably next year once the ROC scheme is removed.