Government pulls the plug on solar schemes

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The Independent Online

The Government was accused yesterday of reneging on its green energy pledges by winding down support for a solar power technology to which Tony Blair himself has given his personal backing.

The Government was accused yesterday of reneging on its green energy pledges by winding down support for a solar power technology to which Tony Blair himself has given his personal backing.

Renewable energy campaigners said grant allocations for solar photovoltaic schemes - which harness sunlight to generate electricity - were being phased out from this summer by the Department of Trade and Industry even though the Government had promised support from 2002 to 2012.

The £31m grant programme has been instrumental in encouraging major companies such as BP and the Japanese group Sharp to set up manufacturing plants in the UK to produce solar PV panels.

The Prime Minister posed for photographers on the rooftop of a solar PV company, solarcentury, last September in advance of his major speech on the environment, pledging that the UK would put the fight against global warming at the top of the agenda during its presidency of the G8 group of wealthy industrialised nations.

Paul Molyneux, Sharp UK's managing director, said: "The current uncertainty over the fate of the 2002-12 programme is stifling investment."

Jonathan Bates, the director of another solar PV business, PV-UK warned: "Many of our members will find it hard to continue trading should the Government abandon the industry as it did the nascent UK wind industry 20 years ago."

Philip Wolfe, the chief executive of the Renewable Power Association, said the industry had been left wondering how to ensure that the support promised in successive government white papers was delivered. A DTI spokesman denied that support was being wound down saying that the department was looking at introducing a "technology-blind" capital grants programme which would bring support for a range of schemes, including solar PV, under one umbrella.

However, Sebastian Berry of the Renewable Power Association said it was not clear when the new programme would be launched, how much funding it would have and whether there would be money available within it for solar.

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