Green power industry claims Government backtracking on solar

While sharply rising oil prices claim attention across the world, the British Government is facing increasingly vocal criticism over a policy on solar power subsidies that critics deride as "extraordinary".

A group of more than 60 companies, trade associations and opposition politicians will today launch the "Save our Solar" (SoS) campaign, calling for ministers to reconsider recently-announced plans for a fast-track review of the "feed-in tariff" (FIT) scheme for all solar panel projects of more than 50 kilowatts (KW).

In a speech at Westminster think tank Centre Forum this afternoon, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is expected to paint a glowing picture of Britain's low-carbon future, reinforcing the Government's wholehearted and active support for green energy.

But Britain's nascent photovoltaic (PV) industry is in uproar over the FIT claiming the Government'sdecision to review the scheme less than a year after it was introduced is decimating investment, undermining plans for up to 18,000 new jobs and evidence of a growing gapbetween talk and reality.

"There is a disconnect between the rhetoric and the actions, to put itmildly," Seb Berry, the head of public affairs at SolarCentury, said. "The fall-out from the extraordinary decision to rush through a review is that it damages investor confidence, not only in the PV sector, but also inrenewable energy more widely."

The Government says the FITreview is vital to avoid large-scale solar "farms" squeezing out the domestic market . But solar companies say that setting the bar at just 50KW will catch out community schemes from schools, hospitals and housing associations. They also said FIT payments were just £6m in the nine months to January, a far cry from the projected first-year budget of £30m-£50m.

At the very least the SoS campaign wants the Government to stick to commitments made as recently as November that it would not to review the FIT earlier than the original deadline in April 2012, unless the scheme was running ahead of projections.

"There are mixed messages from the Government," said Andrew Lee, head of UK sales for Sharp Solar, which recently hired an extra 300 people for its factory in Wrexham. "One day they are standing on steps at Sharp and applauding the jobs we're creating, the next day they're cutting the tariff."

While solar is struggling for a toehold in Britain, European rivals are storming ahead. The UK is only aiming for 2.7GW of solar power by 2020, compared with 40GW in Germany, 26GW in Italy and more than 5GW in Spain. The French government last week announced that it was trebling the solar capacity eligible annually for its FIT scheme, from 500MW to 1.5GW, suggesting France may well exceed its 2020 target of 5.4GW.