The U.K. has undergone a solar transformation in recent years. But the nearly 200 solar farms that have made this all possible may soon have their subsidies pulled, despite overwhelming support for solar in the country.
The Daily Mail reports that Tory Energy Minister Greg Barker will announce a review of solar industry subsidies in the coming weeks. The review is expected to cut subsidies for large scale solar farms, in favor of small scale rooftop installations.
“I do not want solar farms to become the new onshore wind,” Barker told the Guardian earlier this year. “I do not want to see unrestricted growth of solar farms in the British countryside.”
While the U.K. government has made assurances that the total amount of money devoted to supporting solar development will not change, the solar industry and green groups reacted to the news with alarm.
“Yet another badly handled review could spook investors and bring uncertainty to Britain’s solar sector,” Friends of the Earth’s energy campaigner Alasdair Cameron told the Guardian. “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.”
Solar is currently subsidized in the U.K. under the Renewable Obligations (RO) scheme, first introduced in 2002. Under RO, which is not unlike the renewable portfolio standards in the U.S., electricity suppliers are required to source an increasing proportion of their electricity supply from renewable sources. Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) are issued for each megawatt hour of renewable electricity generated by a wind farm or solar installation. If a utility cannot actually meet its renewable requirement from how it is sourcing it’s energy, it must buy ROCs to make up the deficit. If it doesn’t, it must then pay into a buy-out fund. ROCs can be traded and auctioned.
This upsetting news for solar farm developers comes just days after the future of on-shore wind in the U.K. was thrown into uncertainty. David Cameron’s Conservative party promised U.K. voters late last month that ending subsidies for onshore wind farms would be made a priority if the party wins a majority in next year’s election. In addition to scrapping subsidies, the party also pledged to change the planning system for wind farms, giving local councils the power to block any new projects which do not already have planning permission.
While the U.K. is well on its way to meeting its E.U.-mandated renewable target of 15 percent renewable energy by 2020, these changes to the renewable landscape in the U.K. may affect the nation’s ability to meet future, presumably much more ambitious, clean energy standards.
The move against strong support for on-shore wind and large solar farms may also be political posturing in anticipation of the upcoming general elections. The emerging U.K. Independence Party, which among other things is opposed to wind on solar on principle, is growing in popularity with the Conservative’s rural voting base. The recent boom in onshore wind and solar has been decried as an eyesore and a blight on the landscape in many rural communities that are heavily dependent on tourism dollars.