Renewables rules not FiT for purpose

September's unusual weather led to green energy boom. Picture: Ian Rutherford

September's unusual weather led to green energy boom. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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A raft of changes to subsidies threatens green projects vital to local communities, warns Stephanie Clark

These are challenging times for renewable energy in the UK. An industry which delivers the equivalent of almost half Scotland’s electricity and employs tens of thousands of people now finds itself fighting for its life under a barrage of UK government cuts and hamstrung by crippling uncertainty.

Over the past few months, the Treasury has cut onshore wind subsidies; solar subsidies; the energy efficiency budget; the obligation for new homes to be zero carbon; the escalating tax on polluting industry; and low vehicle excise duty on energy efficient cars. It has also introduced a tax on green energy.

Now, with billions of pounds of investment and thousands of jobs already under threat, the government’s attention has turned to small-scale renewables – a sector which has helped homeowners use solar PV panels to cut carbon emissions and reduce their energy bills, ensured the survival of rural businesses and brought vital income to communities across the UK.

A consultation on initial changes to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme, under which technologies like small wind, small hydro and rooftop solar are supported, closed last week. While organisations like Scottish Renewables, the British Hydropower Association, the Solar Trade Association and numerous businesses working in small renewables have made their views known, the sector faces a significant challenge given the policy framework in which it now operates.

Research for Scottish Renewables last week found around 41,000 solar installations, 2,086 small wind turbines and farms, 104 hydro-electric schemes and three anaerobic digesters, which turn waste into gas, are powering Scotland’s homes, businesses and community buildings under the FiT.

With the scale of Scotland’s home-grown power sector laid bare for the first time, we discovered that Inverurie is Scotland’s solar capital, with the town’s AB51 postcode boasting more solar panels than any other region in Scotland, and that Glasgow has almost 25 per cent more small-scale renewables than Edinburgh.

Feed-in Tariff-scale electricity-generating renewables typically provide enough power for a home or business, but can be as large as 5 megawatts – the equivalent of a hydroelectric scheme which can power around 3,400 homes. In Callander, Stirlingshire, a 425kW hydro-electric scheme on the Stank Burn, a tributary of the Teith, aims to provide the community with a sustainable income and is expected to deliver up to £2.85m over a 20-year timeframe, supporting a range of community projects.

In Dingwall, Ross-shire, a 100 per cent community-owned wind turbine set up by a local farmer was the first of its kind in Scotland. The 250kW machine generates electricity equivalent to the demand of 120 homes and is expected to pay in around £8,000 a year to a community fund every year.

Six miles west of Inverness, Kirkhill District Amenities Association spent £17,500 installing 22, 180-watt solar panels on their community hall’s south facing roof, helping it reduce its power bills by around £1,700 per year.

These projects show the importance of the Feed-in Tariff, and that energy sourced close to its point of use empowers communities, businesses and homeowners and plays a valuable role in reducing carbon emissions.

Changes announced to the detail of the FiT scheme in July mean those wishing to build a project will now not know what financial support they will receive until their project is operational – and after they have made significant financial investments, sometimes over a period of years.

By DECC’s own admission this move will mean fewer projects coming forward, and make securing finance increasingly difficult.

Now a further, planned review of the FiT scheme in the coming months is expected to result in steep cuts to support, or even its removal altogether.

The importance of the Feed-in Tariff should not be underestimated. In order to reach our climate change targets it’s important for everyone in society to understand the good which comes from adopting renewable energy.

Visible money and carbon savings like those delivered by FiT-scale renewables do just that, and remind us that every building, business and individual has their part to play in building a cleaner energy future.

Stephanie Clark is the policy manager of Scottish Renewables www.scottishrenewables.com

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