Solar policy U-turn to face Judicial Review

Energy Secretary Ed Davey has been accused of 'slamming the breaks on Britain's fledging solar energy business as the industry today (4 August) takes legal action against the Government.

Four of Britain’s biggest solar firms – TGC Renewables, Solarcentury, Orta Solar Farms and Lark Energy – are launching a Judicial Review against the Government, claiming that Davey’s sudden withdrawal of support for solar through the Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme was ‘unlawful’.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recently announced plans to end the RO scheme – which is the main support mechanism for renewable electricity projects in the UK – in nine months’ time, two years ahead of schedule.

DECC says the changes to the RO scheme will save money, but the claimants say this decision to retrospectively pull the plug on a scheme that was designed to provide the industry with confidence and certainty could cost large numbers of jobs and will rob the solar industry of hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of business.

Cheaper bills

TGC Renewables’ managing director Ben Cosh said: “The pace of British solar innovation means costs are plummeting; solar on the verge of becoming the cheapest renewable energy source, and there’s a real chance it can give gas a run for its money.

“Solar is tantalisingly close to becoming subsidy free, meaning cheaper bills for consumers, and we want to achieve this goal as quickly as possible. All we need from Ed Davey is stable and lawful policy, but instead he has yet again pulled the rug from under the industry’s feet.”

The four solar firms are part of an 800MW supply chain worth over £800m, with enough projects in progress to provide power to over 200,000 homes. They accuse Davey of conducting a ‘sham consultation’ and basing his plans on cost figures for solar that are ‘way out of date’.

This will be the third time legal action has been brought against DECC’s solar policies in as many years. Just three weeks ago, Davey’s department was landed with a compensation bill of up to £132m following its decision to make retrospective cuts to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme, which supports small-scale solar.

Damaging interference

A spokesperson for Prospect Law said: “The Government put the Renewables Obligation in place to offer solar businesses the certainty they need through legislation, but now it is trying to remove this certainty through the back door. This behaviour was found to be unlawful in the case of FiT, and it remains unlawful now. It is surprising that DECC has not learnt its lesson.”

Commenting on this Judicial Review, the Solar Trade Association’s head of external affairs Leonie Greene said: “Sadly we’re not surprised to see this legal action, which reflects the despair felt by large-scale solar developers across Britain at another sudden policy change from the Government. This damaging interference comes despite record levels of public popularity and the record cost reductions achieved by the UK solar power industry.

“Solar in Britain is so close to becoming subsidy free, cheaper than wind and potentially cheaper than gas. This would mean cheaper bills for consumers and real competition to the Big 6, but it can only happen if the Government gives solar stable, reliable support.”

Rooftop solar

On Friday, the STA was among a number of solar industry organisations that welcomed plans from the Government to extend the permitted development of non-domestic roof-top solar PV schemes up to 1MW in size.

The proposal, details of which were initially included in DECC’s recent Solar Strategy, is contained in a newly published consultation from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on technical planning issues.

Currently, planning permission is not required for solar schemes of up to 50kW in size, but this new proposal would mean that planning rules were relaxed for schemes up to 20 times larger.

“We are pleased to see Government is taking an important step to help deliver the strong solar PV roof-top market set out as a key objective in the Solar Strategy,” said the STA’s chief executive Paul Barwell. “We very much welcome this move.”

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie