Solar industry leader Howard Johns has made an impassioned appeal to Energy Ministers to push back the next scheduled cut in the rate of Feed-in Tariff support from July to October.
The spokesman for the Cut Don't Kill campaign said the industry needed more time to recover from the shock of unlawful reductions and a dent in consumer confidence.
Writing in ClickGreen's GreenWeek magazine, the managing director of Southern Solar said the Government should stop trying to manipulate the sector with “divide and rule” tactics but tackle the solar PV slump with support and action.
And Johns warned that DECC can no longer be trusted to manage the Feed-in Tariff programme following the “absolute shambles” of policy changes in recent months.
He said: “It is a sad state of affairs when an entire sector of our renewable energy industry are dependent on Ministerial tweets for their hope for the future. But that is the place the UK solar industry found itself in the last 24 hours. One night last week Greg Barker tweeted that 'they were looking at the scope of pushing back a little the next proposed reduction in the solar tariffs' which was met with excitement and some very warm words from spokespeople in the sector. This illustrates the desperation in the sector, and we are still left waiting for any real comfort.
“To me this whole thing felt like a carrot being dangled in front of us with no real substance – particularly when in DECC questions the Secretary of State Ed Davey said that "if" there was going to be a delay, they were looking at no more than a "tweak" to the change in date when they will reduce the FIT. Thus downplaying the possibility of a lifeline for the many solar companies that are out there struggling to stay afloat. I use the word lifeline seriously – for those of you who run a solar business, which I do, a reprieve to the changes to tariffs might mean that we could get ourselves back to some sense of normality, with our order books filling up again. Many companies in the sector are laying of staff, instituting short term working, or simply shutting down. Most people do not want to talk about it – because people fear that their honesty will drive us further down the path. Hence messages have been coming out of the trade bodies saying how great an investment solar is right now to try and reverse this trend. Sadly the only place this message has been used is in Parliament yesterday by the Secretary of State to justify the Government's current position – of course with no mention that the trade body is also calling for a freeze to the next round of cuts.
“I am often accused of being over dramatic about the state of the industry. In fact some would say that my critical stance of how Government have treated the sector as spokesman for the "Cut Don't Kill" campaign is actually the cause of our current malaise. Let’s be real here – a lone critical voice does not create 15 months of turmoil, three court cases, four reviews, mass bankruptcies and redundancies across the entire sector. No-one can deny the figures; we have over 4000 registered PV installers in the UK, and in the month of April on average they did less than one installation each – in the entire month – that is absolutely shocking. It is also far from the expressed aspirations of Ministers when this turmoil started – providing the industry with certainty and making the scheme for the many and not the few. Sorry but we have not achieved either here – in fact just the opposite.
“During DECC questions last week the Secretary of State could have won our trust, instead he used installation figures that covered the entire period since the new 21p tariff was introduced to justify his position, saying the industry was still growing when it blatantly isn’t. The real pain has started since the 1st April and the introduction of the EPC D criteria as tariff rates are only one factor in determining peoples willingness to embrace our fabulous technology. It may be true that the tariffs and price drops can give a good rate of return to those who chose to invest, but that means nothing when people are no longer making that choice after 6 months and counting of DECC policy shambles. Invariably EPC D has had an effect and no one can deny this is a barrier which adds cost and hassle to the whole process. It simply needs to be removed.
“After the absolute turmoil we have been through in the solar sector we really do need some TLC and some stability. The least that DECC could do to show that they really are serious about 22GW of PV in the UK by 2020 is to give us a break right now. Ministers would go up in people's expectations no end if they announced that there will be no tariff changes until October 2012. We may have a chance to repair some of the damage done to our businesses, the sector, consumer confidence, not to mention our relationship with DECC and Ministers. Most importantly it would give us a chance to prepare properly for the next change in regime with a view to delivering 22GW in the next 8 years.
“Looking at that aspiration, 1 million solar homes per annum are required to get there and we need to call for a sea change in our treatment from Govt. Let's not settle for the divide and rule treatment we have experienced so far. We truly need transparency for the sector to move forward now. 2.5GW per annum is the target, and it seems that DECC cannot be trusted to manage the FIT to ensure our progress to that point. So we need to call for a new path: Lets make the 22GWs a target not and aspiration; lets get an independent body to govern the management and changes to the FIT rates, to ensure we get there.
“I realise that this might take time to set up – so as a first step we must all call louder for a Minister to step in and STOP the JULY CUT! We need the pressure to be taken off and the next cut moved back until October at the earliest to give us the chance we need to make solar the success our country needs it to be.”