A Feed - In Pushmi Pullyu

The latest figures on solar energy make for painful reading. Since the coalition government’s decision to cut feed-in tariffs by over half after December 12th 2011, solar electricity installation has all but collapsed in the UK.

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme, which registers all solar installations highlighted that since the December cut-off point, they had seen a drop of 97%, from nearly 30,000 to 934. Despite the fact that this might reflect a last-minute rush of applications, the numbers are still jaw-dropping. 

And unfortunately, they are not the only big bad ones. Last month contractor Carillion put 4,500 people on notice of statutory redundancy- most of them presumably employees of the former renewable services provider Eaga, which the firm took a punt on last year- to the tune of £306M.

Despite Friends of the Earth’s and the UK solar industry’s successful legal challenge, where the High Court ruled that the tariff cut was ‘legally flawed’, on Wednesday Energy Minister Gregg Barker tweeted his intention to mount an appeal on January 13th to have the decision overturned. All at the taxpayers expense.

But how is this tariff cut actually in the public interest? Partisan interests of the industry aside (although Friends of the Earth figures put job losses here at around 29,000, with a loss of over £230M in taxes to the public purse) what about the UK’s legally binding commitments to cut its carbon emissions 80% by 2050? Energy minister Chris Huhne even signed-up to these cuts with great fanfare in May last year. The cut in FiTs won’t help this.

What is so wrong about this state of affairs is the fact that the government’s left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right is doing. What Huhne commits to, Barker removes himself from, using us, the taxpayers, to facilitate it. And most galling of all is The George Osborne driven ‘Planning Policy Framework’, with its ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. But given latest moves, how is its sustainability to be addressed by architects, the industry, or indeed, anyone? One has to ask of any of these Cabinet members have actually sat down round a table together to think this one through. The whole thing seems symptomatic of the government’s short-term, pushmi-pullyu politics, with wholly divergent policies that collectively hurt a lot but Dolittle. 

But with Barker’s legal challenge happening on a friday, we have to hope, for sanity’s sake, that the day proves particularly portentous.