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Green MEP urges European investigation into UK Feed-in Tariffs

The European Commission is being urged to investigate whether changes to Feed-in Tariff rates will weaken the UK’s ability to meet EU targets on renewable energy.

Mears today announced they are withdrawing from the solar photovoltaic market as a result of the government’s decision to cut FiT rates while several solar companies have announced they will take legal action over the move.

The government has confirmed plans to more than halve state subsidies for solar panel schemes of up to 4 kilowatts.

Green MEP for London Jean Lambert said the move (see here for CN’s original story) shows a “blatant disregard for the UK’s obligationto meet legally binding EU targets on renewables”.

Climate change minister Greg Barker today met with representatives of the solar industry and tweeted “Constructive meeting with solar stakeholders. Budget under huge strain but genuinely keen to engage industry + consumers on proposals”.

The Local Government Association wrote to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to urge him to delay the proposed cut until the end of the financial year.

The LGA highlighted case studies including a £5 million scheme in Reading to install solar panels on schools, council and community buildings which was set to have been completed by April 2012. Reading Borough Council now says that bringing the deadline forward will make it unviable.

LGA Environment Board chairman Cllr David Parsons said: “Rushing through these cuts before the consultation has even finished is going to leave local authorities stuck between a rock and a hard place. Solar panel schemes that were commissioned based on the promise of the previous rate of subsidy will be jeopardised with many councils unable to afford to meet the shortfall.

“To expect councils and the solar industry to deliver projects and have them registered by Ofgem within six weeks is unrealistic and unacceptable. As a result many projects will now be stopped immediately. The costs incurred by councils as a result of this could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Under the Renewable Energy Directive 2009, the UK is required to source 15 per cent of energy needs from renewable sources, including biomass, hydro, wind and solar power by 2020. 

Ms Lambert has tabled a priority question to the European Commission to ask them to scrutinise the effect of the cut on the UK’s ability to meet its obligations under the directive and to set out what proceedings will be taken if the government should fail to meet the 15 per cent target.

She said: “The solar feed-in tariff has been very successful in helping homeowners, community groups, local authorities and businesses to realise and harness the benefits of solar power. In fact, since the scheme was introduced in April 2010, it has seen some 100,000 solar installations, the creation of more than 22,000 jobs and almost 4,000 new businesses.

“If the UK fails to meet its agreed target by 2015, the European Commission could impose fines running into millions of pounds – a criminal waste of public money in these tough financial times.

“It now falls to the government to demonstrate that it is not changing an agreed component of its roadmap and that the UK is still on course to deliver 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020. The government cannot be let off the hook on this most vital of issues.”

MEP Jean Lambert’s question to the Commission:

As part of the Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC, the UK has a renewable energy target of 15% by 2020.  A Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) policy has been implemented as one key measure to deliver this target. 

The UK Government is now planning to significantly reduce the solar pv FiT (1) rates from those reported in its National Renewable Energy Action Plan to the Commission. 

There is concern that this change will undermine solar pv installation and capacity and thereby negatively impact upon the UK’s ability to achieve the 15 per cent target.

Will the Commission assess the impact of this planned change upon the UK’s capacity to make sufficient progress towards and meet the 15 per cent target? If this FiT revision or other weakened implementation policies threaten progress towards this target, what steps and proceedings will the Commission take?”

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