‘Sharp closure ends decade of UK solar innovation’

This week Sharp, the Japanese technology company, announced its withdrawal from solar production in the UK with the closure of its facilities in Wrexham at a cost of 615 jobs.

With just days to Christmas, workers have been told that Sharp’s plant in Llay in North Wales will be closing in February next year. The company will remain in Wrexham, producing microwaves, but the solar plant will close.

The news is a hammer blow for the workers and for North Wales and ends a decade of innovation in solar power by the company in the UK.

Solar panels have been produced in Wrexham by Sharp since 2004 and the company had been a key component of the regional economy. The excellent relationship between Sharp and its workforce at the plant since the late 1980s secured investment at Wrexham despite limited grant support and the then lack of a UK feed-in tariff.

When Ed Miliband became energy and climate change secretary and introduced a feed-in tariff, the company responded, investing in a training centre for solar installers, an education centre for schools and, at one stage, employment for more than 1,000 people.

The local council responded too by introducing solar panels on its housing stock, leaving a legacy of renewables in Wrexham.

Then came a change of government and a rapid change in the political climate. Despite David Cameron’s “greenest government ever” pledge, the reality for companies like Sharp was somewhat different.

The Tory/Lib Dem government's solar policy has been catastrophic.

First, it penalised renewables investment by retrospectively reducing the feed-in tariff. This reduction was challenged by business and held to be unlawful by the courts. The challenge was understandable to say the least, as the reduction effectively penalised virtuous investment. Secondly, the government repeatedly changed the investment framework for solar, creating uncertainty and discouraging further investment.

In the Autumn Statement earlier this month, the chancellor created further uncertainty by altering strike prices yet again, a fact I raised with the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, in the chamber only the week before last.

Thirdly, it has consistently talked down the positive effects of renewables on the jobs market, appealing to the lowest common denominator of the Tory right on energy policy. The move from the “greenest government ever” to the reported dismissal of “green crap” by the Prime Minister has not gone unnoticed in the industry.

We saw the result on Monday with 615 of my constituents, and their families, facing loss of their jobs in the run up to Christmas – the same day that Ministers predicted a “solar resurgence” in 2014.

The minister responsible for solar power, the day hundreds of jobs were lost in the industry, said: "There is no comparison to the position of solar now to the industry that I found when I came into office in May 2010. It has matured, it has developed, it has deployed.” This is very much not the experience for hundreds of workers in Wrexham.

If the ministers responsible for the renewables policy of this government had a shred of decency, they would take real responsibility themselves.