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Dark skies gather over the UK's solar energy sector. Photo: reway2007 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Dark skies gather over the UK's solar energy sector. Photo: reway2007 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
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Fighting back for the green economy

Alasdair Cameron / Friends of the Earth

31st July 2015

The UK government has timed its attacks on renewable energy to perfection, writes Alasdair Cameron. Public 'consultations' on proposals to cut away support for wind and solar are running over the holidays - and many of those affected don't even know about it. It's time for us all to stand up for the green economy and make our voices heard!

Something really important and quite insidious is going on. This proposal has been snuck out in the hope that no one will notice. Released, along with other changes, on the day after Parliament went on recess.

Well well well. It seems the Government is on something of an anti-green roll.

The last few weeks have seen them announce an effective ban on onshore wind, privatise the Green Bank, scrap the Zero Carbon Homes plan, shove up taxes for green cars and put a ludicrous carbon tax on renewable energy.

Now the feed-in tariff is under threat. This is the scheme that allows individuals like you and me, as well as thousands of schools, hospitals, libraries and small businesses to install solar panels or small wind turbines.

As I explain elsewhere there are lots of reasons for this, most of them nonsense, but the point is that the Green Economy is under attack.

And it's being done on the sly

In the weeks to come there will likely be a big uproar as changes to the main domestic feed-in tariff are discussed, but right now something really important and quite insidious is going on.

Two weeks ago the Government announced a consultation to remove 'pre accreditation' for projects over 50kW under the feed-in tariff. Like all the most important things it has a boring name, but it matters. This is the scheme that allows people building larger renewables projects to pre-register them to receive the Feed-in Tariff at a fixed price, and then have six months to a year to finish them.

This is important because, as we know, the Government can change the supports for new projects at any time, and they reduce rapidly over time, which means that a school or a farmer could spend months building a project only to find out it is uneconomic by the end.

But this is exactly what the Government is now proposing. Its reasons are simple, and spelled out in the consultation. It wants less rooftop solar under the FiT. Think about that. Despite all the rhetoric against solar farms and wind turbines, and all the Minister's talk of a solar revolution, the Treasury is insisting that there should be less rooftop solar.

This is particularly ridiculous given that by the government's own data this is a sector that is already struggling. Indeed, there appears to have been almost no growth at all in medium scale rooftop solar in last few months.

Another consultation snuck out over the holidays

At the same time the government has released a second consultation on closing the remaining Renewable Obligations (RO) for medium sized solar farms.

Combined with the fact that the RO for large solar farms is already closed, the attack on onshore wind, and the emerging likelihood that there will be no more Contract for Difference rounds for these technologies this year (this is the scheme which was supposed to replace the RO, but which is struggling), and it looks like the government is pretty much blocking the two cheapest forms of renewable electricity we have.

What is almost as galling is that this proposal has been snuck out in the hope that no one will notice. Released, along with other changes, on the day after Parliament went on recess and a day after the Secretary of State appeared in front of the Energy and Climate Change Committee.

No doubt this helped her avoid some difficult questions from MPs, but it doesn't exactly build public confidence. Nor for that matter, does it build confidence in the renewable energy industry, and the investors that have stepped forward to finance its growth.

Released too as many of the schools, public sector bodies and small businesses are heading off on holiday, and unable to respond. The timeframe is short as well. Four weeks for the pre-accreditation consultation. Just half the time given for similar changes in the past.

We think this is wrong. Not just because of the substance, but because of the way it is being done. It is undemocratic and underhand. It shows the general disregard for the renewables industry we are now coming to expect. We believe it violates the Government's own guidelines.

Indeed, these state that: "timeframes for consultation should be proportionate and realistic to allow stakeholders sufficient time to provide a considered response and where the consultation spans all or part of a holiday period policy makers should consider what if any impact there may be and take appropriate mitigating action".

Calling Amber Rudd - is anyone at home?

Considered response? Half of the small scale energy groups don't even seem to realise that anything has happened yet. The deadline is in just a couple of weeks, and I've barely got past the stage of writing snarky tweets complaining about it.

As a result Friends of the Earth's lawyers have written to voice our concerns, to seek more time. Whether or not anyone is listening remains to be seen.

The tragedy is that we know this is just one of many attacks going on against the Green Economy that have not yet had time to sink in. I am still receiving emails from groups and supporters looking to launch community schemes to raise money for renewable energy. I almost don't have the heart to tell them that time may be running out.

There will be lots of battles to come in the next few weeks and months. Right now we need to start building the movement which will win them.



Action: please voice your opposition to attacking roof top solar, and help us stand up for the Green Economy and Save Renewable Energy in the UK.

Alasdair Cameron is renewables campaigner with Friends of the Earth (UK minus Scotland).



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