It looked like a Brave New World when Feed-in Tariffs were announced last April – the opportunity to build large scale ground mounted solar projects – something not uncommon in other parts of Europe, but absent in Britain.
We’re building the UK’s very first Sun Park right now, next to our big Wind Park in Lincolnshire and it should be up and running in April. But it might be the UK’s first and last, if the government delivers on the rhetoric of the last few weeks.
Ecotricity has over 50MW of Wind Parks now, with about 200MW more in planning – it’s taken us fifteen years to get here BTW. We see the potential to build enough Sun Parks to achieve a 50/50 mix of wind and sun – in as little as two years time – because solar projects have none of the planning problems that onshore wind does. And these two sources of energy are complementary, for example you get more of one in the winter and more of the other in the summer. And we’re expecting to learn a lot, as an energy company, from one of the world’s first hybrid Wind and Sun projects (the first project we’re building). It’s very much a Brave New World.
Or rather it was. Along comes the government and says: “We don’t like the sound of solar farms. They’re going to hoover up all the money available from the Feed in Tariffs (FiTs), and harm the market for household solar power” Or words to that effect. But that’s not being strictly honest, because there isn’t a limited pot of money under FiT legislation. We’ve checked our understanding with Ofgem and they agree – there is no pot, and no way that one technology can succeed at the expense of any other.
In any event there have been over 20,000 applications so far for domestic rooftop installations, that’s actually going rather well! While the UK has yet to get it’s first large solar farm. It seems a little premature to be worried, even on the basis of misunderstanding the rules…
There are other bits of government disinformation that need tackling too –
It’s been said that large scale solar projects are taking advantage of a loophole in the Feed in Tariff regulations.
And that the last government never anticipated large scale solar projects taking part in FiTs.
Neither claim bears the slightest scrutiny – the rules of FiTs are clear, big solar is an intrinsic part of it, who in their right minds could think that rules specifically allowing solar projects of up to 5MW (or 25 acres of land) were an oversight or something. On the contrary the last government knew exactly what it was doing. The new government simply wants to change the rules – they should say so.
And then we can have a proper debate on the merits of their plans. For example in these times of serious financial constraints (and big cuts), when we also need to achieve progress towards green energy and carbon reduction targets – more than ever we need value for money in everything (the government even says so) – so how can it make sense to choose to support domestic solar at the expense of large scale solar, when the latter is 30% cheaper (FiT regulations ensure that). We get three for the price of two if we spend our money on big solar rather than small solar – three units of green electricity for the price of two, three units of carbon reduction for the price of two.
It’s hard to fathom. The rules don’t allow one technology to adversely impact any other, FiTs were designed to enable big solar, and it offers far better value for money – so why does the government want to kill it off at birth?
I think it’s about ideology, about the countryside. I just wish the government would be honest with us, and rather than demonize big solar in a series of ministerial announcements (from three ministers now Gregg Barker, Chris Huhne and most recently Charles Hendry) just tell us the truth, big solar might spoil the countryside or something.
Then we can have an honest debate on the facts.
More recently Nick Clegg reiterated their intention/promise that this will be the greenest government ever, while presenting these proposed changes (to kill off big solar) as something in the public interest. It’s hard to see greenness in this policy ‘emergency stop’ though. This government did not create FiTs it inherited them (so no cred there) and rather than enhance them they propose to restrict them by removing big solar from the mix, and capping the total spend. There was no cap before, that’s a coalition government change – presented as a saving, based on the tenuous proposition that the previous government estimated the cost of FiTs to be £400 million (in 2014/15) – and so by limiting the spend to 360 Million, there’s an actual saving…… (the ‘saving’ would be some 50p per household per year BTW – big whoop)
With electricity consumption in the UK split roughly two-thirds business and one third domestic, the £360 million cap equates to £5 per year per household (on their energy bills). Is that really too much to pay. Oil prices have risen sharply recently, and not for the first (or last) time – the impact this has on household energy bills is far (far) greater than £5 a year – better to spend that money (all our spare money in fact) on indigenous energy sources, than pay it to global market speculators (many of whom are banks by the way).
And then there’s jobs; Remember all the talk of new green jobs before the election? Germany has 133,000 people employed in it’s solar sector now and 17,000MW capacity installed – in a 10 Billion Euro a year industry. We in the UK have a measly 60 odd MW.
Brave New World indeed. More 1984 in my opinion, all propaganda and Doublethink. Cuts are boosting renewable energy, capping an estimate is a saving and big solar is the bogey man.
Here’s another example of disinformation – Chris Huhne on Yougen – “The key point is that if people want to do solar PV at scale on the same subsidies which were designed for small solar, we need to be careful as the comparison will not be with small solar, but with onshore wind. In that comparison onshore wind looks much more economic.”
Large scale solar does not get the same subsidy as small solar – it gets 30% less – it gets support designed for large scale solar. To say, or suggest, otherwise is just wrong. And why compare it to onshore wind – if that’s the governments approach they should compare offshore wind to onshore (one costs twice as much as the other) and overhaul their policy on that – there’s no value for money in offshore wind if onshore is the benchmark.
So there it is, a veritable blizzard of ministerial disinformation to soften us all up for the pulling of the plug on big solar. After the consultation process of course, the outcome of which hasn’t been prejudged…. 🙂
We’re building the UK’s very first Sun Park right now – it may well be it’s one and only. And that looks just plain daft to me.