Solar appeal failure welcomed by industry and farmers

THE Government has lost its appeal against a ruling that cuts to solar subsidies were illegal, possibly allowing farm businesses to recieve a higher payment for the energy they produce.

This morning all three court of appeal judges rejected the Government’s challenge to a December ruling in the high court which labelled the cuts as unlawful.

Energy and Climate Change(DECC) secretary Chris Huhne said the government will take its appeal directly to the supreme court after being refused permission to be refered to the court by the deciding justices in the court of appeal.

“The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court ruling on FITs albeit on different grounds. We disagree and are seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court,” Mr Huhne said.

“We have already put before Parliament changes to the regulations that will bring a 21p rate into effect from April for solar pv installations from 3 March to help reduce the pressure on the budget and provide as much certainty as we can for consumers and industry.”

Mr Huhne said the aim of the cuts was to allow for the greatest number of installations within the available budget, adding the government believed the solar sector had a strong future in the UK.

NFU chief renewable energy and climate change adviser Dr Jonathan Scurlock told Farmers Guardian this decision should make it clear to the government it cannot change tariffs retrospectively.

“The main outcome is that there is much more certainty about what the future level of tariffs are going to be and the government understands it cannot act retrospectively to try and cut tariffs because there’s not enough money left in the budget,” Dr Scurlock said.

Dr Scurlock said he didn’t expect a perfectly clear picture to emerge until the case moves into the supreme court in coming days but the most likely result would be tariffs remaining at their higher level until March 3.

The cuts will see the FiTs cut from 43.3p/kWh to 21p/kWh for solar installations, up to 4kW in size. For farmers to be allowed to claim the higher tariff they would need to have their projects completed and paperwork filed before March 3.

Greens MP Caroline Lucas said she was surprised the case was set to continue in the supreme court.

“Having lost twice in the Court of Appeal and been roundly humiliated over the shambolic handling of solar policy, it absolutely beggars belief that the Department for Energy and Climate Change is apparently planning to appeal to the Supreme Court,” Ms Lucas said.

Friends of the Earth(FoE), who along with solar energy firms Solarcentury and HomeSun spearheaded the court challenge last month, said the governemnt should now move to secure the 29,000 jobs in the solar industry and find other revenue streams to support tariffs.

“Ministers must abandon plans to tighten the screw on which homes qualify for solar payments - and use the massive tax revenues generated by solar to protect the industry,” said FoE executive director Andy Atkins.

HomeSun CEO, Daniel Green said the legal proceedings could have been avoided if the government had spoken with the solar industry.

“Both this appeal and the Judicial Review in The High Court would not have been required had DECC simply followed its own process and allowed the industry, that it claims to support, time to prepare for a lower Feed-in Tariff.”

The Renewable Energy Association(REA) has called on the governemnt not to pursure another appeal but to draw a line under the issue.

“The Government’s action and the subsequent court case had together thrown the solar industry into a state of extreme uncertainty, which was most regrettable.

“We now want to put this behind us as swiftly as possible, and work with Government and supporters to secure a larger budget for small scale renewable energy generation,” said REA chief executive Gaynor Hartnell.

For more news on solar energy lookout for Farmers Guardian’s renewable energy special in the Friday January 27th paper.

Facts about the FiTs:

  • Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) were introduced on April 1 2010 to encourage the deployment of small scale (less than 5MW) renewable energy generation by businesses, communities and individuals
  • FiTs provide a payment for the electricity generated from installed renewable energy technology and a further payment is made for any energy generated but not used and ‘exported’ to the grid
  • The FiTs have stimulated an increase in small-scale renewable generation, primarily solar PV - equivalent to 70,000 solar panels being installed since the scheme started
  • The Government is undertaking a comprehensive review of the FiTs, including tariffs and qualifying technologies.
  • Phase 1 of this review will focus on Solar PV Feed-in Tariffs. A consultation on proposals under Phase 1 was launched on October31 and closed on December 23.
  • Phase 2 will consider wider issues including tariffs for non-PV technologies, new cost control mechanisms and administrative aspects of the scheme. The tariff for larger solar PV (between 50kWh and 5MW) was reduced in August after a ‘fast track’ review.

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