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Solar Panels – the next step

The government just lost its appeal over the High Court ruling (of December 21, 2011) that they acted illegally in announcing early cuts to the FIT – Feed In Tariff – payments for solar panel arrays.

Daniel Green, Chief Executive of Homesun, was interviewed on the BBC News website. He described the government subsidy as the ‘most popular energy efficiency micro-generation project that’s ever happened in the UK’ and said that over 300,000 people had applied to his company as a result.

solar panels, image

There may still be time to install a solar array and get the full tariff payment. Then again, there may not...

Roughly 30,000 people are currently employed by the solar power industry, and a substantial number risked redundancy if the government’s plan to halve the subsidy on December 12th was approved.

Welsh MP Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru) said that while there had been a pre-Christmas boom for installers as consumers rushed to beat the December 12th deadline, their order books for the new year were empty. Some companies were facing ‘up to a 60 or 70% reduction in their workforce’, he said.

In 2011, Sharp, one of the main UK manufacturers of solar panels, announced a £30 million expansion of their Wrexham plant which would lead to 300 new jobs. As early as mid-November they confirmed that they were ‘reviewing their position on further expansion’.

The Court of Appeal have now upheld the High court’s decision. Additionally, they have refused permission for the case to be taken to the Supreme Court – but the government might do so, anyway.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne’s ministry was also condemned for ‘making a mockery’ of the consultation process because the date on which they proposed to change the tariff levels was scheduled prior to December 23rd, the end of the supposed consultation period.

However, while this is clearly a step in the right direction as far as consumers and solar panel installers is concerned, this decision is likely to lead to a further period of uncertainty for both.

If the government does manage to take its case to the Supreme Court and win, any panels installed after December 12th will only qualify for the slashed tariff rate of 21p/kWh. However, if they lose their appeal yet again – and let’s not forget they’ve now lost it twice – panels will continue to reap the 43p/kWh tariff (one of the most generous in the world) until at least March 3, the government’s new ‘contingency plan’ cut-off date.

While some may be tempted to risk it, the best advice would seem to be to make sure you can afford the lower tariff of 21p/kWh before investing.

The reason behind halving the tariff rate was supposedly that the funding set aside for it would be used up. However, Daniel Green points out that the industry as a whole generates £300 million for the treasury per year, and that the subsidies are paid for – in full – by the energy companies themselves. So, cutting the subsidy will in fact lead to less tax money being generated for the government as well as greater profits for the energy companies.

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6 Responses to “Solar Panels – the next step”

  1. chris legge says:

    I hav a polytunnel 20’length x 14’width x 8’height. Keeping it to minimum temperture of 60c in the winter, say between late October and late March would help us with plants and to grow vegetables and propagate
    for following year.
    What would be required in terms of cost, installation and services required (we only have water) to install.

    chris Legge

    • Mark Gatter says:

      Keeping a polytunnel or greenhouse warm is only part of the solution. Unless there’s enough light, the plants won’t be able to grow properly. Regardless of where you are in the UK, the shortage of light is extremely important. You can keep frost at bay with horticultural fleece cloches, filled water butts, bubblewrap curtains and even chickens – a chicken is rated at about 15 watts of heat output – and this will enable you to you keep more delicate plants alive, but even so, nothing will grow much between late November and mid February. Keeping a tunnel at 60f – I’m sure you didn’t really mean 60c! – is just too warm unless you can provide light as well.
      If you propagate seedlings too early, which you definitely could in a warm and well-lit place, they’ll probably be leggy and/or pot-bound before the weather is warm enough to support their growth, either inside or outside the tunnel. However, I always do this with a few seeds, just in case we get a tropical spring! A couple of years ago I started tomatoes in January – inside, under a light – and was duly rewarded with the first fruit in late May. But generally I end up with leggy seedlings that aren’t as vigorous as they could have been, and I know that their growth rate will be overtaken by seeds started later when conditions are better able to support them.
      I only have water in my polytunnels, though I also use water butts and fleece cloches to keep serious cold at bay. This means I don’t try to keep growth happening over winter – I just plant things which grow to a decent size in autumn, and then just sit there until I decide to pick them. Then, in spring, the warmth and light increase and off everything goes again.
      Trying to keep a tunnel warm will be very costly and probably lead to the most expensive vegetables you’ve ever eaten! Passive heating, while less exciting, is far cheaper – and you can still have a polytunnel stuffed with food, right through the winter.

  2. Arch says:

    Hi not sure I want taxpayers money handed out like this
    And the installers are just having a laugh these installations are way over priced
    It’s easy to throw other peoples money at things!
    Let people fund there own planet saving crap and get your hand out of my pocket

    • Andy McKee says:

      *checks hands* Madam!
      Yes, it’s a contentious issue all right, but it has very little to do with ‘saving the planet’ imho. In the event of an energy crunch though (and these are forecast by the way) having some microgeneration could be vital.

  3. Arch says:

    You can microgenerate what you like but not with my money. There’s no genuine reason to subsidise the like of this it’s fuelled by greed and something for nothing crowd ! Call me Dave should pull the plug and get some market competition going re cost of solar panels that every one can self fund
    If there’s a power crunch bring it on, we are much better fighting our corner if it happens than blowing money now on something that may never happen and the panels that are up are a waste of effort
    You are just being fooled by marketing

    • Mark Gatter says:

      Dear Arch,
      I understand that you are angry about the FIT payment scheme, but I suspect that if a power crunch happens most people will too busy trying to keep warm to consider fighting their corner. And good luck trying to withhold paying taxes because you don’t like how they’re being spent! I’ve never been happy with how most of my tax money is spent, but whether Mr C ‘should be told’ to do the right thing or not is hardly likely to make much difference to him, is it? Whether good or bad, the FIT scheme has seen solar panel arrays appear on houses all over the country, and surely that has to be a good thing in the long run. Personally, I’d rather look at solar panels than at coal-driven power stations, even if they cost a bit more. Incidentally, the panels around here seem to be doing exactly what they were intended to do, so they’re a long way from being a waste of effort.

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