Protesters ‘shot themselves in the foot’ with court case

THE solar power sector and environmental campaigners “shot themselves in the foot” by taking the UK government to the High Court over changes to subsidies, an industry expert has claimed.

Ben Cosh, managing director of TGC Renewables, which installs solar panels and wind turbines, said the court case and the coalition government’s current appeal had brought more uncertainty to the industry.

His company, based in Bristol with an office in Glasgow, has about £100 million worth of renewable energy developments in the planning system and a further £100m lined up for the year ahead.

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Cosh said potential customers were “sitting on their hands” and waiting for clarity over subsidies before deciding whether or not to install solar panels.

The UK government sparked anger among many in the industry in October when it announced that changes to “feed-in tariffs” (FIT) – the amount paid to households and businesses for the power produced by their panels and fed into the national electricity grid – would be cut in December, rather than in April as previously planned.

Solar panel installers were perplexed because the date set by the coalition government was before the end of its own public consultation on the changes.

That sparked a High Court case, which ruled in favour of campaigners. But the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) is appealing. On Friday, the Court of Appeal in London postponed its judgement on the coalition’s pleas.

Cosh said: “Nobody knows where we stand now. We could hear the result of the UK government’s appeal by the end of the month but then we need DECC to issue guidance on what will happen with the feed-in tariffs.”

He said the cost of making solar panels had dropped so much that installing the devices was becoming more economical. But he added that clear guidance was still needed over the level at which feed-in tariffs would be set to give companies and individuals confidence to invest.

However, other players in the solar power sector have strongly disagreed with the TGC boss’s allegations. John Tait, business development director at Glasgow-based solar panel fitter Alva Northern, said: “Neither installers, nor environmental campaigners ‘shot themselves in the foot’ in speaking out against the UK government’s proposal.

“If anyone shot themselves in the foot it was the UK government, by acting unlawfully and sneakily bringing in the change in the FIT before its consultation period ended, which is why the court ruled against its unexpected announcement.”

Despite cuts to subsidies, Tait said that the return on investment was “still favourable – better than investing money in the bank”.

Daniel Borisewitz, policy manager at trade body Scottish Renewables, said: “The significant uncertainty around the sector has continued to grow.

“Sales are declining because customers simply don’t know what rate of return their investment will bring in the future, hitting many of the 142 accredited installers across Scotland hard.”