UK policymakers signal U-turn on toxic tariff scrap plans

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Amid the U.K.’s feud over the small-scale generators’ remuneration scheme, politicians appear to have responded to industry concerns over potential job losses and backlash for the country’s emissions targets.

Rachel Reeves, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee released a written comment last week, stating her disappointment with the proposal, but raised hopes after saying that the government looks likely to U-turn on the policy.

“Rooftop solar and other small-scale renewable electricity generators are set to lose support from the scrapping of the feed-in tariff and the export tariff. It’s disappointing the Government has failed to spell out why it is that householders should provide solar power to the grid for free, and the proposal on the export tariff risks destabilizing the development of the small-scale renewable industry in the UK. The Government appears to be shifting on this, but it urgently needs to set out how it will support small-scale renewables and ensure our solar industry gets the backing it deserves,” Reeves’ comment reads.

The remarks were made following comments by Energy Minister Claire Perry, in the House of Commons on November 20. During the BEIS Select Committee Oral Questions, Perry is quoted as saying, “I do completely agree that solar power should not be provided to the grid for free, and that’s why I’ll shortly be announcing the next steps for small scale renewables.”

According to a statement issued by the U.K. Solar Trade Association (STA), she also said, “It would be wrong to have power provided to the grid for free,“ and, “People who have gone through the installation process should not be essentially captive takers should someone want to buy their energy and I’m looking forward to announcing some further deliberations on this shortly.”

Plans

On July 20, this year, Westminster announced plans to scrap the export tariff scheme for small-scale generators from March 31, 2019. So far installations up to 30 kW receive GBP 0.0485 ($0.062) per kWh, of energy they export to the grid. Removing the tariff has been likened to theft, as generators would be forced to offer their electricity for free.

The move sparked fierce protest across the industry, with fears that thousands of installer jobs could be lost. On August 30, it wrote a letter to Perry, asking her to confirm their continuation from next April.

The letter was initiated by STA, and signed by over 200 organizations across the industry, representing smart technologies, innovative suppliers, academics, major NGOs, farmers, landlords and homeowners.

At the time, STA Chief Executive Chris Hewett said, “The latest Government proposals for solar power are creating shockwaves well beyond the solar industry. Nobody can fathom how Government can contemplate leaving households and small organizations as the only generators left unpaid for the valuable power they put into the electricity network. We are asking the Energy Minister to act quickly and promise to maintain the export tariff & to uphold the basic rights of a market.”

However, after the latest events, he appears more optimistic, saying, “We are delighted that Claire Perry has now stated clearly that future small solar generators should receive payment for their exported electricity … As ever the devil is in the detail, so we now need to see the proposals and make sure they are in place from April 2019, but this is a good day for solar installers and prospective rooftop solar owners.”

James Court, Policy and External Affairs Director at the Renewable Energy Association also rejoiced, stating, “It is hugely welcome that the Energy Minister has acknowledged the united calls from across industry and parliament that no-one should be expected to give away electricity for free.

“The feed-in tariff has been a stand out success, and has led to huge cost reductions. Cancelling the export tariff though would be a significant blow, for industry, for consumers, and for the UK if we are to meet our climate commitments.”