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Commercial solar farms 'cashing in on scheme'

Concerns that commercial solar "farms" are cashing in on an incentive scheme designed to boost small-scale renewables is prompting the Government to review the programme.

Feed-in tariffs, which are financed by increases on household energy bills, pay people and organisations for the "green" electricity they generate from small scale solar panels, wind turbines and other renewables.

The latest figures from Ofgem show that almost 20,000 individuals, businesses and communities have registered for the scheme since it began in April, with solar panels on homes making the majority of renewable installations.

But with subsidies paying out for solar electricity installations of up to 5 megawatts, the equivalent of 200 homes having the panels on their roofs, solar farms which stretch over a number of acres are being given the go-ahead.

Areas such as Cornwall have seen the beginnings of a "solar power gold rush" with five farms already given planning permission and more schemes being considered or expected to be submitted soon.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker has said that he would act if the growth in solar farms was getting out of hand.

He told the Micropower Council before Christmas that while the Government was "absolutely committed" to feed-in tariffs, ministers had inherited a system from the previous administration which had failed to anticipate the potential for industrial-scale, stand-alone greenfield solar power installations.

"While we will not act retrospectively, large greenfield based solar farms will not be allowed to distort the available funding for domestic solar technologies.

"We want to see an ambitious roll-out of solar panels on Britain's roof space but not all over the countryside.

"I will not allow the hard-won available funding to be scooped up by a few industrial scale PV farms at the expense of the domestic or small business installations," he said.

The Government has also said it wants to reduce the costs of the scheme by around 10%, of £40 million, by 2014/2015.

The review is expected to be launched this week.