Uncertainty continues for East Anglia’s solar industry

The region's renewable energy suppliers have welcomed a High Court ruling which postponed planned cuts to solar tariffs – but warned uncertain times still lay ahead for the industry.

East Anglia's domestic energy sector has grown dramatically in recent years as homeowners rushed to cash in on a government incentive guaranteeing a payment for every kilowatt generated by solar panels on their roofs.

But the burgeoning industry was thrown into panic on October 31 when energy minister Greg Barker announced the feed-in tariff (FIT) would be halved from 43p to 21p/kWh for systems up to 4kW registered after December 12.

The five-week deadline prompted an unprecedented rush for installations – and a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth and two solar companies who said it was creating 'huge economic uncertainty'.

Last Wednesday, Mr Justice Mitting agreed the decision to set the deadline 11 days before the consultation into the scheme had finished was unlawful.

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But after Mr Barker announced the government would appeal against the ruling, the region's suppliers are once again anxiously awaiting confirmation of changes which could affect their customers and employees.

Damian Baker is managing director of supplier RenEnergy, which is based at Blofield Heath, near Norwich. The firm has been supplying solar systems since 2006 and has grown from 25 employees to 60 in the last 18 months.

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Mr Baker said: 'RenEnergy has had to deal with a difficult few weeks battling uncertainty, keeping our customers happy and ensuring our employees' morale is maintained with all the additional hours they have had to contribute.

'The renewables sector needs to certainly grow, but in order to do this successfully the industry needs to have clear timeframes and policies. We are thrilled that the combined power of the solar industry and Friends of the Earth has been effective in calling the government to account their unlawful behaviour in recent months, and hope this ruling has ensured the government will consider their future actions, and work towards offering more stability and clarity.

'Unfortunately we will not know the outcome of the review until January 2012, which means there is still short-term uncertainty.'

Currently, the 'eligibility date' of December 12 has been ruled unlawful and the government will have to propose a new timeframe. Should its appeal be unsuccessful, a new date will have to be set around the end of February.

Ministers said the sheer number of people cashing in on the scheme meant it was unsustainable and would end up costing too much for consumers, who pay for it through additions to their energy bills. However, the industry estimated the abrupt changes could put thousands of jobs at risk.

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