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Feed-in tariff cuts spark HVAC outcry

Local authorities, schools and community projects are likely to be hit by the government’s planned reduction of feed-in tariffs, after climate change minister Greg Barker revealed plans to reduce incentives paid to medium-scale solar schemes.

In a move Mr Barker said was designed to protect payments to “homes, communities and small businesses”, he proposed to cut feed-in tariff rates for new schemes with generating capacities greater than 50 kW.

However, local groups and developers reacted angrily, arguing that by setting the capacity level for schemes affected so low, the government will harm projects it claims it is trying to protect.

Developer Low Carbon Solar is seeking legal advice, and the firm’s chief executive Martin Shorrock said schools and local co-operatives would be most likely to suffer.

“The proposals… are nothing short of disastrous,” said Mr Shorrock. “If adopted, they would mean a large rooftop installation on a school or office with 100 kW capacity would see available incentives cut 42 per cent, while solar farms with up to 5 MW will see incentives slashed by 72 per cent.

“The result is that hundreds of solar energy community schemes are in jeopardy.”

Cornwall Council was hoping to use income from selling green energy from its solar parks to the national grid to help offset £170 million of government funding cuts over the next four years.

Julian German, the council’s cabinet member responsible for the green energy programme, said the government was sending confusing messages to councils.

“We are extremely disappointed that the secretary of state announced that local authorities have the opportunity to generate and sell electricity from renewable technologies, and yet now the government is planning changes to the feed-in tariff,” he said.

Mr Barker said the government wanted to protect the pot of money available through feed-in tariffs from “big business”.

It is understood that a number of major companies now stand to lose out.

Renewable Energy Association PV specialist Ray Noble said a number of major firms had already invested significant sums of money in developing solar schemes based on the original feed-in tariffs, and were now considering legal action against the proposed government cuts.

However, green energy company Eaga - currently subject to a takeover bid from Carillion - welcomed the reduction in tariffs for schemes below 50 kW.

Eaga strategic director John Swinney told H&V News it was right the government was seeking to protect such schemes.

“I think the whole idea of filling farmland with solar panels is anathema to the way both this and the previous government have been developing the feed-in tariff policy,” said Mr Swinney.