Solar industry protestors march on government over FITs cut

Hundreds of campaigners backing the UK's solar industry have taken part in a protest over government plans to cut the Feed-in-Tariff' (FIT) scheme by marching to the House of Commons to question their MP.

Taking place yesterday (November 22), the ‘Cut don’t Kill’ campaign aims to force the government to rethink its proposals, which campaigners argue will destroy the UK’s solar industry.

The FIT scheme, introduced in 2010, pays householders for the power produced by their solar power systems and has led to over 90,000 new systems being installed in the last 18 months. However, under government plans, unveiled just a few weeks ago (October 31) the tariff is set to be reduced from 43.3p per kilowatt hour to 21p – a cut of more than 50%, from December 12.

As a result, campaigners are arguing that the cuts are “too fast, too soon” and do not give the industry adequate time to adjust to the changes, which they warn will put many businesses at risk and have a detrimental effect on the UK’s renewables industries.

Southern Solar managing director and spokesperson for the campaign Howard Johns warned that the cut will “destroy the British solar industry in one fell swoop”, adding that, “it might seem easy to David Cameron to do that at the stroke of a pen, but we are coming to Westminster to bring MPs face to face with the people whose livelihoods will be destroyed”.

He also argued that the solar sector has created thousands of jobs and enabled people to save on their energy bills.

As part of the day’s events, a protest on Westminster Bridge was held, with industry workers carrying mock solar panels to highlight the estimated 25,000 jobs under threat from the cut. This was followed by a rally which included speeches from shadow secretary for energy and climate change Caroline Flint, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and Southern Solar managing director Howard Johns.

The day concluded with a mass parliamentary lobby where representatives from the campaign met with their MPs to urge them to oppose the tariff cuts in parliament, which Mr Johns described as a “key moment for solar in the UK”, adding that “we are making an impact here, but we have to ramp up pressure on government”.

The “greenest government” must be held to account, said Mr Johns, adding that “solar will be one of the most important renewable sectors going forward”.

Speaking yesterday, Ms Flint said that the Government has delivered a “triple wammy” to not just the solar industry, warning that the cut is also bad for jobs and economic growth, the public and the environment.

She said: “The Government’s reaction to the solar industry shows a government that is chaotic and doing a huge amount of harm to the UK’s renewables industry.”

Ms Flint said she would be asking for the December 12 cut off date to be voided in her opposition argument today (November 23) in parliament. “We knew the tariffs were to be looked at, but not at the cost of strangling the industry at birth”, she added.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas slammed the Government’s plans saying “we really didn’t think the Government would take environmental vandalism to such heights”, warning that the cut would force the industry to “brutally contract”.

In addition, she said that cutting FITs will hit the poorest hardest, particularly those already living in fuel poverty as many local authorities and housing associations have been forced to retract plans to implement solar on social housing. This, she said would have given people greater control over their energy bills, while also breaking the monopoly of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies.

Ms Lucas said: “It was also known tariff rates would come down, but not so abruptly that it causes damage to businesses. However, it becomes clear this ideological government has blinded itself and decided it doesn’t believe in photo voltaics (PV).”

As a result of the reduction in rates, the coalition is likely to face a revolt when many MPs vote in opposition of the decision.

Carys Matthews

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