Subsidy cuts may jeopardise large-scale solar farms, say green campaigners
The future of large-scale solar farms may be in doubt after reports that the Government is planning to cut subsidies.
Several large solar farms are planned in the Seend area, with an appeal due to take place against Wiltshire Council’s decision to vote against the 80-hectare site on Sandridge Hill, near Melksham, on April 16.
Sandridge Solar Power says the solar farm would have the capacity to generate enough electricity for about 11,400 average UK households - more than all of the properties in nearby Melksham. It claims it would save up to 504,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions over the 25-year lifetime of the project.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) is expected to review the levels of support for solar farms, which can be controversial because of their visual impact on the countryside.
The move follows the announcement that the Tories would scrap subsidies for onshore wind farms if elected in 2015.
But the industry warned that drastic changes to policy could cause job losses and damage investor confidence across the renewables sector.
A report has been published by industry body the Renewable Energy Association (REA) which revealed that the renewables sector had attracted nearly £30billion in investment since 2010, and supported more than 103,000 jobs.
But around 10,000 jobs were lost when there were significant cuts to small-scale solar subsidies known as "feed-in tariffs" in 2011/12, the report said.
A separate report from the UK Energy Research Centre, also newly published, warned that uncertainty over Government policy could damage ambitions to cut emissions and make energy less affordable, secure and sustainable in the long-term.
REA chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska said: "Our report shows that where policies are clear and stable, our industry can attract investment, create jobs, and increase UK green energy.
"We've seen this in renewable electricity and we're beginning to see it in renewable heat too.
"We also emphasise though that drastic changes to policy - to which solar power is no stranger - can lead to job losses and damage investor confidence across the renewables industry.
"We urge Decc to tread very carefully if it does indeed plan to review the support mechanisms for large scale solar.
"This sector is creating jobs and bringing down costs rapidly."
Nick Boyle, chief executive of solar power developers Lightsource Renewable Energy said: "Solar installations are an asset to Britain and should be held up as a beacon of home grown electricity generation, but constant tariff cuts and government pressure act to undermine the work we do to provide clean, secure energy and put into serious question the very momentum we have worked so hard to build.
"Solar is adding genuine new electricity generation to the UK, something the government can ill afford to ignore."
A Decc spokeswoman said: "We're very clear that Government support for solar PV has to deliver the best value for money to consumers.
"As technologies mature and costs of generation come down, those savings have to be passed on to bill payers.
"We will consult on any changes to current levels of support to solar PV.
"Our ultimate goal is for renewables to be competitive with other forms of electricity generation."
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Alasdair Cameron said: "Yet another badly-handled review could spook investors and bring uncertainty to Britain's solar sector.
"Solar power is hugely popular and is on course to be one of our cheapest forms of energy, but it needs robust and predictable support to enable it to thrive and further reduce its costs.
"While the benefits of rooftop solar are clear - particularly on schools and other public buildings - large-scale ground-mounted panels have an important role to play and present excellent value for money.
"In the right place, and with the right measures, solar farms can benefit nature, as well as providing cheap, low-carbon energy."
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