Government pledges rescue package for North Sea, but nothing for solar

The government has this morning confirmed a £250 million ‘rescue package’ for the North Sea oil and gas industry, but appears to have left nothing similar on the table for the UK’s trimmed solar industry.

Prime minister David Cameron is in Aberdeen today unveiling the financial injection which will see the creation of a new energy innovation centre established to exploit the remaining North Sea reserves.

It builds on comments he made during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday afternoon. Cameron said: “I’m determined we build a bridge to the future for all those involved in the North Sea.”

Speaking of the investment this morning, energy secretary Amber Rudd said: “The UK government stands 100% behind our oil and gas industry and the thousands of workers and families it supports.”

“It’s a fantastic industry which benefits Scotland and the whole of the UK, but clearly the low oil price brings real challenges, and we’re determined to do everything we can to take advantage of the UK’s broad shoulders and help build a bridge to the future for UK oil and gas.”

As the oil price has continued to hit new lows, there has been increasing concern for jobs in the region. Last year Oil & Gas UK said that around 5,500 jobs had been lost in offshore oil and gas since 2014, and British Petroleum recently confirmed its intent to shell roughly 600 positions from its North Sea operation.

However there has been no such commitment for the UK’s domestic solar industry, which is also facing a significant threat to job numbers following the introduction of a new feed-in tariff regime.

With rates cut by 64% to 4.39p/kWh and stringent deployment caps implemented, the industry is expected to drastically shrink in size over the coming months. When DECC’s original proposals of an 87% cut to FiTs were unveiled in August the Solar Trade Association forecast that as many as 27,000 jobs could be placed at risk. DECC’s own impact assessment for the new regime suggested that 18,700 could be lost as a result of the cuts.

And like Aberdeen being particularly bad hit by the North Sea’s travails, the south west stands to be disproportionately affected by job losses in the solar industry.

The bulk of solar deployment in the UK has been conducted in the south west due to its high levels of irradiance and undeveloped land. The STA’s study found that of the 3,800 people currently employed in the south west by solar firms, 3,040 would stand to lose their jobs – equivalent to roughly 80%.

This was later compounded by a survey conducted by Truro Renewable Energy Enterprise which found that the cuts could actually double Cornwall’s total unemployment rate.

Rudd’s comments on jobs within the solar industry have so far left little to be desired. During a topical questions session earlier this month the energy secretary said it would be “unfair” for subsidies paid for by levies on energy bills to support jobs in any industry and claimed that more that the new FiT regime still had the capacity to support 23,000 jobs.

Solar Power Portal contacted the Department of Energy and Climate Change this morning to question whether or not a similarly-billed ‘rescue package’ would be extended for the UK solar industry, but has yet to receive a response.