UK: Government reminded of strong public support for clean energy as FIT cuts get go-ahead

The controversy surrounding the U.K. government’s proposal to slash the FIT support for solar power by as much as 87% has rumbled on following the closure of the consultation period on Friday.

While most government consultation periods pass with little or no fanfare or attention, this particular period was characterized by sustained outcry and criticism, with the Renewable Energy Association (REA) on Friday reminding the government that three quarters of the British public support renewables – according to the government’s very own Public Attitudes Tracker.

Since the proposals were first announced in July, leading voices from within and outside the solar energy industry have questioned the timing, scale and economic reasoning behind the proposals. Dissenting voices have emanated from the Solar Trade Association (STA), Friends of the Earth, the National Farmers Union, the CBI, the United Nations, former U.S. VP Al Gore, the Climate Change Committee and various representatives of both the Scottish and Welsh parliaments.

One of the most vocal critics of the decision lies closer to home for the government – Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who on Friday repeated his call for government to phase out subsidies more slowly, rather than plump for the dramatic slashes now due on January 1.

"The Mayor believes that the solar PV industry needs some certainty over the next few years as it transitions to a subsidy-free and long-term sustainable future," wrote deputy mayor for the environment and energy Matthew Pencharz in a letter addressed to Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom on Friday.

"The current proposals, which have been consulted on, with little or no prior warning, to come into force in the new year have created great uncertainty in the solar PV industry, potentially putting at threat thousands of jobs across the U.K."

Johnson’s imploring arrived on Friday on the day that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) closed the consultation period, having ignored the advice and suggestions from the STA and REA to review the scale of the proposals in order for solar to achieve grid parity with other, more polluting, forms of fuel.

During the consultation the REA called for more money to be made available than the £75-100 million proposed; the introduction of alternative mechanisms – such as tax incentives – than the FIT, and a challenge to the minimum import pricing (MIP) of solar panels at EU level.

"The nation has shown its hunger for control over its own energy supply," said REA head of policy and external affairs James Court. "This consultation is serving as a reminder of why we chose to carve out this course, to pursue a decentralized vision for how the U.K. produces its electricity.

"Crucially it’s about people taking a stake in their individual energy futures. The public want to be able to make their own choices about the costs and sources of the electricity that lights their homes and offices, turns on their mobiles, and increasingly powers their cars."

Lauren Cook, the REA’s senior policy analyst, added that the reaction of those opposed to the cuts demonstrates that the future of small-scale renewables is an issue close to the heart of a great range of people – the majority of whom have a vested interest that extends beyond mere financial returns.

"The discussion is about reducing emissions, supporting industry, economic growth, and jobs. Small renewables are good for construction, for farmers, for urban and rural communities, and are important to remaining internationally competitive."