UK: 27,000 solar jobs could go if FIT cut proposals are enacted

An estimated 27,000 of the 35,000 jobs in the U.K. solar industry and its related supply chain could be lost should the government enact its proposals to slash the feed-in tariff (FIT) by 87%, the Solar Trade Association (STA) has warned.

The STA analyzed employment data produced by the government’s research partner TBR Economic Research, which looked at low-carbon jobs across the country. The proposed cut to the FIT will be enacted on January 1, 2016, and over the course of next year could see jobs shed in most corners of the country.

The STA analysis finds that the southeast of the U.K. will be most heavily impacted, with more than 4,000 jobs at risk. The Northwest area, meanwhile, could see 3,500 of its 4,300 solar jobs lost.

The proposals laid out by the government appear to favor England’s southwest and southern coastal regions at the expense of everywhere else, said STA CEO Paul Barwell.

"Within this new set of proposals, the government has used sunlight levels you might find in Devon [southwest England] rather than those found in Yorkshire as they have done in the past," Barwell said. "Here at the STA, however, we believe more than just one corner of the country should be able to get the benefits of going solar."

Further analysis this week by the STA revealed that the scale of the government cuts amount to a 98% reduction in financial support for solar.

Efforts to convince the government to rethink its proposals have been gathering steam, with the STA and the Renewable Energy Association (REA) joining other clean energy bodies this week to issue a joint statement urging the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to review its decision on removing the preliminary accreditation from the FIT.

Yesterday, October 1, saw this financial safety net removed – a decision the signatories labeled "bad for business and bad for energy security".

The letter continued: "Since the government’s decision to remove pre-accreditation, DECC has launched a root and branch FIT review, which envisages fundamental changes to tariffs and caps on levels of deployment. The government has indicated that pre-accreditation could be reintroduced as part of future proposals. Since it is unclear how the scheme can operate without a pre-accreditation system, we would like to see a clear statement from government about the use of new pre-accreditation controls as part of any revised scheme."

Solar tells gas to frack off

Despite the top-down demonization of solar emanating from the British establishment, the technology’s ability to rally entire villages was heartening to see this week in Balcombe – a Sussex village that not only successfully saw off the frackers but has now been given the green light to install a 5 MW solar farm.

The picturesque settlement in the south of England was the scene for the U.K.’s largest anti-fracking protest in 2013 when thousands showed their opposition to Cuadrilla’s plans to drill in the region.

In 2014 Cuadrilla backed off and now the village is set to be almost completely solar-powered – provided it can get its solar farm completed and connected before the end of the Renewable Obligation (RO) scheme on April 1, 2016.

"Balcombe is showing how things can be done differently – to the benefit of local people," said the only Green MP in the U.K., Caroline Lucas. "I hope government ministers have their eyes on Balcombe today, and that the huge success there persuades them of the urgent need to rethink their short-sighted cuts to support for Britain’s renewables industry."

The solar farm is being backed by a crowdfunding campaign, shareholder investment and local residential support.