Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Is the UK Government’s solar panel review FiT for purpose?

The UK Government has shocked the renewable energy world by proposing to cut the subsidy for solar panels by 50%. The subsidy is provided in the form of a ‘Feed in Tariff’ or ‘FiT’ that is designed to encourage the installation of low carbon electricity generation on houses or others buildings, including churches. The scale of the cuts and their speed – they are due to come into effect on 12 December – has caused real consternation.

One of the reasons for the announcement is the success of the scheme, which has attracted far more interest than the government had expected. Churches have begun to take interest and this unhappy announcement coincided with the report of the Eco-Congregation Scotland solar panel conference at Partick South Church in Glasgow on 29 October. This conference brought together 120 representatives from churches around Scotland to discuss the pros and cons and of solar panels.

Speakers and participants agreed that solar panels might be useful in Scotland, despite our rather grey climate but firmly concluded that they only make sense as part of a ‘whole church’ energy management policy. The conference report encourages congregations to do the basics before considering solar panels: install draught proofing or secondary glazing. This would help improve the energy rating of the church, something the UK Government is also seeking to encourage in its consultation. Few churches have energy performance certificates and their introduction has been resisted some church authorities. However the UK Government is suggesting this could become a pre condition for the subsidy.

Others have criticised the UK government proposals. Housing associations have suggested that they are regressive and that they will destroy plans by social housing providers to install solar panels on housing in low income areas. Friends of the Earth in England are arguing the whole review is illegal because the haste with which it is being introduced and are mounting a legal challenge in the courts.

This is a lot to consider and we will be looking at the details closely. But it does say something about the inadequacy of the consultation. The UK Government has come up with some reasonable arguments about the subsidy but has managed to upset just about everybody in the process. At a time when government, churches and communities should be working together to respond to climate change the consultation risks driving us apart.

You can find out more about the ECS Solar Panel Conference and Review of FiT at:

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