Almost 1,000 jobs were lost on Wednesday night as one of the UK’s leading solar- panel installers went into administration, blaming government changes in energy policy for its downfall. The Mark Group said it had been to bring in insolvency specialists because it was unviable due to ongoing losses at the Leicester-based business. So far the administrator, Deloitte, has made 939 redundancies, but a further 200 jobs are at risk unless a buyer can be found.

“The turnaround plan, which was already under way, focuses on solar PV, but the government’s recent policy announcements mean this is no longer viable,” said a statement from the company.

The company was only recently sold by a much larger US firm, SunEdison, which has a separate operation in Britain that is also under threat. The company said it could not confirm that dozens of jobs were being cut at its London offices, but admitted that 15% of its global staff were being cut back for a variety of reasons.

Mark Babcock, vice-president of SunEdison’s residential and commercial business unit in Europe, said: “Given the latest changes and proposed changes to the feed-in tariff [subsidy regime], it is difficult to see this [Britain] as a viable market going forward.”

SunEdison had originally bought the Mark Group in July because the British group had moved heavily into the insulation market only to see business collapse due to various government policy changes. The American group planned to switch the Mark Group expertise and staff out of insulation and into solar, only to find that ministers were starting to reduce subsidies in that sector, too.

The renewable-energy industry has now called on the government to rethink its entire approach to energy policy following the latest threats to the sector.

Dave Sowden, chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Association, said: “This is disastrous news for the thousand or so employees that have left Mark Group buildings today to tell their families they no longer have a job, and could easily have been avoided if the government had paid attention to clear signals about the need to instil confidence in the market. Ministers were warned long before the election of a confidence problem in the sector due to lack of clarity on policy and frankly could have easily prevented this.

“Energy measures in buildings are by far the most cost-effective way of meeting our energy policy objectives, and the best way for the energy sector to help deliver George Osborne’s long term economic plan. The government’s rhetoric on meeting climate-change targets, on placing energy efficiency at the heart of energy policy, and the effusive support given by ministers for solar today feels hollow and empty.”

The loss of faith by SunEdison and the Mark collapse came just hours after David Cameron boasted at the Conservative party annual conference that the country has received “more foreign investment flooding into our country than anywhere else in Europe” . But earlier in the week, the energy minister, Andrea Leadsom, was reported to have privately said during a debate on the fringes of the conference that the cuts to renewable subsidies had harmed investor confidence.

Since the Conservatives won the election, there have been a raft of changes, including the end of subsidies for onshore wind power. The government has justified the moves on the grounds that these new technologies can now stand on their own feet without the past levels of subsidies.

A new report on Wednesday from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that the price of solar and other renewables is falling fast, while fossil fuel costs are going up. New onshore windfarms are now the cheapest way for a power company to produce electricity in Britain, it argued. Costs have dropped to £55 per megawatt-hour, compared with the current costs of about £75 for constructing coal or gas-fired plants, its analysis found.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “Our priority is now to move towards a low-carbon economy whilst ensuring subsidies are used where they are needed most, to provide the best value for money for hardworking bill payers.”

Terry Macalister, the Guardian 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

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