Backbenchers demand solar payback for community groups

Energy ministers have been urged to set up special support arrangements for community solar power installations to counteract the impact of their decision to cut Feed-in Tariff (FiT) subsidy rates.

A highly critical report issued by two select committees today warns that solar projects promoted by community and social housing groups have been particularly hard hit by revisions to the FiT scheme proposed in a Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) consultation launched at the end of October.

The Commons energy and climate change and environmental audit committees found that community solar power schemes have been particularly disadvantaged because they depend more acutely on tariff income to finance installations and need longer to organise funding and planning permission.

"The social housing sector and community owned schemes are going to be particularly hard hit by the reduced tariffs," said environmental audit committee chair Joan Walley. "All over the UK councils, community groups and social housing trusts are having to cancel projects at the last minute."

The consultation proposed a cut in FiT rates from 43.3p to 21p per kilowatt-hour for the smallest installations. According to the MPs, the consultation was based on an inadequate impact assessment and was unfair in bringing the cut into effect on 12 December – 11 days before the consultation deadline.

The report also recommends that householders who can prove that they had already made a contractual financial commitment to install solar panels before the start of the consultation process should receive the higher tariff rates even if their equipment was not installed by the 12 December cut-off.

Energy and climate change committee chair Tim Yeo said: "There is no question that solar subsidies need to be urgently reduced, but the Government has handled this clumsily. Ministers should have spotted the solar gold rush much earlier. That way subsidy levels could have been reduced in a more orderly way without delivering such a shock to the industry."

Walley added: "It doesn’t make economic sense to let the sun go down on the solar industry. As well as helping to cut carbon emissions, every panel installed brings in VAT and every company that benefits from the support is keeping people in work."

The Solar Power Feed-in Tariffs report is available here.

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