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MP calls for Government re-think on plans to slash clean energy subsidies

LOCAL MP David Warburton has called for a re-think on controversial plans from his own government to slash the ‘feed-in tariff’, warning that the proposed cuts to subsidies are “draconian” and likely to be more than the solar industry can bear.

With only a very short time to go until the end of the consultation on the proposals (23rd October), David Warburton said the plans are likely to be “a disaster” for existing community energy projects which have been putting power – literally – in the hands of local people.

The South West of England is likely to be hit particularly hard by cuts to subsidies as more than 250 of the 400 community energy groups nationally are based in the region.

David Warburton’s comments come after a solar panel project on the roof of Frome Medical Practice, funded by the local community, was switched on as part of the town’s ambitious plans to become the first carbon neutral town in the West.

Construction work is also underway on a second project to create a new solar powered community stand for Frome Town Football Club, which is set for completion later this month.

David Warburton said, “We know the solar industry fully expected some rationalisation, but a drop of up to 87% in subsidies overnight is draconian and more than I suspect the industry can bear.

“For rooftop solar projects, this would mean an 82% cut to the existing subsidy rate of 11p to 3.69p. This would be a disaster for community energy projects like these in Frome, which are putting power – literally – in the hands of local people.

“So I’m battling ministers at the Department for Energy and Climate Change for a set of tariffs and a mechanism that keeps the solar industry alive until grid parity is reached – which is anticipated to be within this parliament – allows domestic installations to continue, at a steady or reduced rate, and encourages commercial and community rooftop installations, especially where the power will be used on site.”

The two solar projects are the brainchild of not-for-profit organisation Frome Renewable Energy Co-op (FRECo), with the support of community energy specialists Mongoose Energy. Together, they raised a record £300,000 in just five days earlier this year to fund the schemes through a community share issue.

The schemes have been designed and are being installed by local firm TH White Energy which specialises in commercial-scale solar projects across the UK and is based in Devizes.

In addition to the expected six per cent annual return to people investing in community shares, over the lifetime of the project, FRECo will have saved 1500 tonnes of carbon and generated £188,000 for a community fund to support other local low carbon projects.

The 560 solar panels on Frome Medical Practice are also set to save the medical centre £60,000 in electricity costs over the lifetime of the scheme by generating over 130,000 kilowatts of clean energy.

Anna Francis, chair of FRECo said, “These schemes demonstrate in a very real way that community energy is good for the community, investors and the environment. FRECo is one of over 250 community energy groups in the south west and 400 nationally and together, solar and wind energy now power eight million UK homes.

“We are now facing the prospect that new community energy schemes will no longer be viable. The government’s proposals to cut renewable energy subsidies by 87% and impose a cap on the amount of clean energy that can be deployed could devastate community energy projects and lead to the loss of jobs and investment in the local area.”

Alex Lockton, general manager at T H White Energy said, “Frome has shown its commitment to making the town carbon neutral and as a large local employer, our company is committed to supporting and improving the livelihood of people in the area, which community energy does in spades.

“The proposed cuts to subsidies will mean communities cannot raise the funds to achieve even the low hurdle rate required and, without funds, there is no community project.

“With people like the governor of the Bank of England and the director general of the CBI calling for increased effort around climate change, it makes no sense for the Government to remove support from the solar industry which enjoys support from 80% of the public. Community energy schemes like the solar projects in Frome are a fantastic way for people to take action themselves to help secure a cleaner energy future for our country.

“As the end of the feed in tariff consultation draws closer, there is an increasingly urgent need for Government and the solar industry to find a workable solution which offers people value for money, while at the same time allowing businesses and community organisations to tap into a credible power source that saves them money.”