Policy shift on home renewables leaves solar in the dark over future

The launch of consultation on the Government's new Low Carbon Buildings Programme has created a black hole in the renewable industry's ability to plan for the future, according to PV provider Solarcentury.

The company says it has no qualms about the Department of Trade and Industry’s plans to promote micro-generation (see related story) and open up funding to providers of a wider mix of renewables and energy efficiency.

But the gap between the shut down of the current schemes, Clear Skies Initiative and Major PV Demonstration Programme (MDP), and the implementation of the fledgling Low Carbon Buildings Programme is a cause for concern, it argues.

It has also raised fears that as the new programme does not ring-fence funding for specific technologies it is even harder to know what the future will hold for the solar sector.

Oliver Sylvester-Bradley, a spokesman for Solarcentury, said: “The more options we have in the basket of renewables combined with energy efficiency the better and once the new programme is in place then that’s all good.

“But Government has set impossibly high targets for renewable energy for 2020 which we aren’t going to meet unless they do more to support the industry.

“We just want to have the level of funding to match our main competitors in Germany and Japan.”

He told edie that Tony Blair had visited Solarcentury last September and had assured staff he was committed to supporting renewable energy and the MDP funding would be available until 2012.

“By changing his tune he creates a seriously difficult time for us,” said Mr Sylvester-Bradley.

The gap between the end of the MDP funding and whatever replaced it could be as long as nine months, he claimed, and already there was talk within the industry of downsizing and laying off staff.

“I know of smaller places where they are talking of laying people off, particularly those businesses which have gone out of their way to get the certification to fit domestic panels,” he said.

“It’s not the way to help an industry grow.

“The problem is nobody knows how much the funding will be, how it will be administrated or when it is likely to appear.

“All that makes it very difficult to plan ahead.”

He said the solution he would be lobbying for would be to take a small amount of money from the existing pot and use it to cover the funding gap, rather than transfer it straight into the new programme and make everyone wait and reapply.

“Otherwise it becomes almost impossible to plan ahead,” he said.

“The shame is they can’t make a swift decision and stand by their word.

“The G8 meeting presents Tony Blair with ample opportunities to announce there will be funding.

“We will have to wait and see if he takes them.”
Peter Barnao, a spokesman for the DTI, said the consultation process was open until September and he hoped those with genuine concerns would air them.
“We hope that they’ll make some constructive input to the consultation,” he said.

“The final shape of the programme has not been decided yet and we would like to hear from those involved in the industry.”

He said there was currently no plan to ring-fence parts of the budget for different technologies but there was no reason to suspect solar would see a cut in Government support in years to come.

“The new programme will be designed to take a more holistic approach to the mix of what’s available,” said Mr Barnao.

“It’s about greater flexibility, and the choice to use whichever technology is going to deliver in any given set of circumstances.”

“Obviously solar might be the right solution for some buildings, but it will not be suitable for others.

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to get carbon emissions down using the most effective solution we can find,” he said.

“We’re trying to get the biggest bang for the tax payers buck.”

By Sam Bond

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