Some of Britain’s most powerful solar executives have accused the government of mounting an ideologically driven campaign against their industry which has driven it into crisis.
Their criticism comes as a solar power company backed by the billionaire inventor Elon Musk has pulled out of the UK, becoming the fourth such firm to close in a fortnight.
Executives have become increasingly outspoken ahead of a consultation on a proposed 87% cut in small scale solar subsidy levels closing on Friday and job cuts mounting in the industry. The Solar Trade Association (STA) has warned the move could cost up to 27,000 jobs and that the government support would add £1 to bills by 2019 – on top of the existing £9 that solar adds annually to customer energy bills.
“To let this green success story die, pushing more into unemployment and becoming a burden on the state. It’s obscene,” said Richard Rushin, UK sales manager for Trina, the largest solar panel manufacturer in the world.
“We want to wean ourselves off subsidies as soon as possible but you cannot just cut them by 87%. We believe that [with] one pound on each customer bill the industry can keep 35,000 [people] in a job.”
Jonathan Selwyn, managing director of solar installer Lark Energy, is also furious: “When the government talks about nuclear and fracking (shale gas) it’s all about investment energy security and jobs. When it talks about renewables – not just solar – it talks about the costs to hardworking British families.
“It’s never about the clean energy we are providing, the security, the jobs, or the investment. We have invested £1bn in the national grid – that does not get talked about. It is also providing energy close to the user so its does not need the grid to upgrade itself.
Selwyn said ministers claim solar should stand on its own two feet but points out that nearly every energy sector, including oil and gas, receive subsidies in some shape or form.
“We are all paying £100 for nuclear decommissioning costs in our bills. Solar: five quid? It is nothing to do with the energy bills of hardworking families it is entirely ideologically driven by George Osborne. It is nothing to do with the cost to the energy consumer.”
Last week, Howard Johns, a former chairman of the Solar Trade Association and founder of Southern Solar, was forced to close his company with the loss of over 1,000 jobs, joining the Mark Group and Climate Energy. . In a comment piece on the Guardian website, Johns accuses the government of “nothing less than political vandalism on a grand scale”.
“We, the public, have funded the growth of the UK solar industry for a few years now. Now, when it is getting close to not needing any subsidy at all, we are going to close it down. That’s just plain illogical, and can only be ideologically driven,” said Johns.
The angry statements from senior industry executives come as the Department of Energy and Climate Change prepares to close its latest consultation on subsidies for roof-top solar power being cut from 12.92p to 1.63p per KWh from January next year.
DECC said the move is being made to protect consumers from rising bills while reducing the 10% yield – or high profit margin – for those providing the schemes.
“Our priority is to keep bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses, and to build a long-term energy efficiency system that gives consumers value for money. We are protecting existing investment and bill payers, while reducing our emissions in the most cost-effective way.”
Amber Rudd, the energy and climate change secretary, told political reporters last week that she had been forced to cut back subsidies because her predecessor, the Lib Dem MP Ed Davey had allowed spending to soar.
The Conservative government has already introduced a wave of restrictions onshore wind, energy efficiency and other “green” schemes. Critics believe this is driven by a mixture of George Osborne’s wider cuts agenda plus scepticism about the climate change agenda.
The STA argues that the current moment is the worst time to cut subsidies because with a little bit more help the industry can be aid-free and compete with carbon heavy fossil fuels by 2020.
Already 8GW of solar power has been installed in Britain – enough to power over 2m homes – compared with zero five years ago, while the economics of the industry have been helped by plunging panel costs.