Dominic Lawson: Good riddance to the great solar scam

Britain's plunge into this grotesque subsidy has come at a time when other countries have pulled back

Share

When the Confederation of British Industry and the big Trade Unions are in policy agreement, it amounts to reliable circumstantial evidence for taking the opposite view. For example, the employers' organisation and the TUC were both in favour of early British entry into the euro, a powerful establishment consensus which Gordon Brown was wise enough to thwart.

Now the CBI and the trade unions have joined forces again: at the weekend, The Independent on Sunday splashed on a letter signed by both employers and unions protesting that the cut of 50 per cent in the subsidy given to those installing solar panels on their roofs would "strangle at birth Britain's booming solar industry" and would "cost 25,000 jobs". The CBI director-general, John Cridland, described last week's announcement by the Energy Minister Greg Barker as "an own goal".

On the contrary, Mr Barker's decision is one-nil to the public against the forces of corporatism, the conspiracy of big capital and big labour against the consumer. It was an outrage that the scheme was ever implemented in the first place – with the support of all three main political parties. To continue with the football metaphor, let's call them Fools United. Just before it was introduced – appropriately enough on 1 April 2010 – that most analytical environmentalist George Monbiot wrote a devastating critique from the perspective of one completely committed to reduction in carbon emissions.

Monbiot pointed out that while the Government was paying those providing electricity from large wind turbines and hydro plants 4.5p per kilowatt hour, it was offering 41p per kilowatt hour for electricity fed into the grid from solar panels, thus acknowledging that solar photovoltaic panels (PV) required eight times more subsidy than alternative forms of renewable energy. In fact, it appears that the first £8.6bn of such solar panel subsidies would "save" – on the Government's own figures – about 20m tonnes of CO2. This equates to about £430 to "save" one tonne of CO2 – compared with just £8 by building a nuclear power plant to replace energy provided by coal-fired power stations.

For pointing out that nuclear power would be more than 50 times more efficient than domestic solar panels in reducing CO2 emissions, Monbiot was subjected to what he described as "a level of viciousness displayed on comment threads... [that] has to be seen to be believed." I believe you without seeing them, George: I've read some of the stuff that gets appended to this column from on-line readers confronted with an unwelcome fact.

The oddest aspect of the British plunge into grotesque subsidy for solar panels was that both Germany and Spain had only recently pulled back after they discovered just how much such schemes misdirected public funds. The Germans had sunk more than €35bn into solar PV at a similar rate of subsidy to ours, which, after 10 years, managed to supply little more than half of one per cent of the country's electricity: the International Energy Agency estimated it had cost German taxpayers €1,000 to "save" each tonne of CO2.

Germans who owned their own house – and therefore the roof on top – were the grateful recipients of much of this subsidy (along with the companies supplying the panels), notably at the expense of taxpayers without such property assets; exactly the same perverse outcome is taking place here. Even in Spain, where the weather is much more propitious than in northern Europe, the government had retreated, after a solar gold-rush ended with thousands of poorly designed solar plants stretching across empty plateaus, and in the words of a New York Times report: "Spanish officials came to realise that they would have to subsidise many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy."

The USA has also fallen for the great solar confidence trick. Nearly 90 per cent of subsidised federal "clean energy loans" of $16bn have been sucked up by solar, with beneficiaries such as Goldman Sachs, General Electric and even Google (which uses the federal clean energy tax breaks to offset its profits from web advertising). The chief executive of the utility NRG told Wall Street analysts early this year that the government's largesse was a once in a generation opportunity and that "we intend to do as much of this business as we can get our hands on". Business entirely motivated by tax breaks is invariably misdirected, even when it is not straight misappropriation: in September, the US solar energy company Solyndra, which had promised to "create 4,000 new jobs", filed for bankruptcy.

Solyndra was a poster boy for President Obama's economic stimulus, having received a federal loan guarantee of $535m dollars, and visited by the Energy Secretary Steven Chu as a model for "government investment in Green technology". More than a third of the shares in Solyndra were owned by the family trust of George Kaiser, an Obama fundraiser who, it turns out, had made 16 visits to the White House since 2009. Yes, folks, that's corporatism in action.

When the CBI and the GMB protest about the "25,000 jobs" at risk in the British solar-panel trade, instead of joining their protest you should ask yourself what the billions lavished on this subsidy could achieve in long-term economic benefit and employment if directed more rationally at the infrastructure – or even (which would horrify the corporate state) left for us to spend.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?