Back in August, the government released a consultation on changes to support for small to medium renewable energy. The severity of their cuts shocked even the most hardened policy watchers.
Trade bodies warned of devastating job losses, the international community was puzzled, even conservative MP’s (Boris Johnson among them) questioned the rationale. And thousands of you responded - giving voice to the vast majority of the British public who want to see more, not less, clean renewable energy in the UK.
Early yesterday morning, before sunlight even hit countless solar panels across the UK, the government finally snuck out their response to the outcry. We were never expecting a full U-turn. What we did want was evidence that they'd acknowledged the huge public support and collective might behind renewable energy. And we got that. Concessions have been made. It’s a long way off what we need, but the wide reporting of a scale back in the face of “a storm of criticism” speaks to the strength of our response and the potential for us to build from here.
The cuts have been softened following a storm of criticism.
So, In the spirit of festive over-eating, here’s good news/bad news sandwich summary of the government response to the Feed-in tariff consultation.
- The cuts have been reduced for solar and wind. A home owner installing solar will now receive 4.39p for every kWh of energy they produce, well up from the 1.63p/kWh originally proposed.
- Wind did better than expected. Having taken a battering recently, tariffs were unexpectedly increased for all wind projects over 50kWp and even re-introduced all together for projects over 1500kWp.
- Pre-accreditation is back. That means that with certain conditions in place, renewable energy projects over 50kWp can ‘lock in’ rates of support in advance of an installation (and before the support levels drop each quarter). That makes a big difference if you’re trying to raise money through shares or borrowing, or if your project is a bit more complicated to get off the ground.
- Fox Primary School got a shout out! Having carted their incredible papier mache sun petition down to government officials, their contribution was formally acknowledged in the response. Hello pupil power.
- Community energy got some recognition. Perhaps in acknowledgement that energy policy doesn’t have to be boring after all (or because no can resist a picture of kids hugging a wind turbine), community energy groups will be given longer to get their projects installed under pre-accreditation. And there’s mention of bringing back pre-registration for community groups too - basically the same allowances but for s maller projects (like lots of our Solar Schools).
- Rates are higher but they’re not enough. While homeowners installing solar will now receive 4.39p/kWh of clean energy they produce, that’s a long way off the 8p called for by the Solar Trade Association to put solar on a steady path to being subsidy free in a couple of years. Previously the government assumed they’d need to offer homeowners a return of 6-8% to encourage installations (bearing in mind the relatively long pay back periods). They’re now working to 4.8% at best. Fair enough in these times of tightened belts you might say, but it's rather a long way off the 11.5% being promised to Hinkley C investors…
- There’s still an overall cap on the budget. That means that for every winner, there has to be a loser. And it’s likely that those losers will be hydro projects and non-professions less familiar with the process. Plus, extremely tight deployment caps on solar will see rapid falls in support - effectively punishing success.
- Job losses are still staggering high. Industry bodies say 6,500 jobs have already been lost. The government's own impact assessment predicts that 9,700 and 18,700 will go.
- The priority is explicitly “cost control”. It’s referenced throughout and used as the rationale for all of the damage that will be inflicted. Even if you question whether the Department of Energy and Climate Change should be guided purely by short term cost, the numbers don’t seem to stack up when you compare them to support for fossil fuels and nuclear.
- Meanwhile in other news... A response to a consultation on changes to another renewables support scheme - the renewables obligation - was also released today. Large solar didn't fare well.
- Post climate negotiations in Paris the contrast feels stark. While David Cameron made promises to our children on the international stage, today’s combination of renewable energy cuts with new fracking licences read from a different hymn sheet...
This is just the start. Based on the numbers alone, it’s hard to call this a win. If we’d been presented with these figures right at the outset we’d have been less than impressed. But what’s vitally important is that we came together and made some serious noise. And that noise was undoubtedly heard. Working alongside everyone from Ben and Jerry’s to the NFU to a bunch of skaters from Wadebridge, we changed energy policy. And we’ll do it again.