In the wake of last week’s fast track review announcement, Cornwall Council has expressed its serious concern over the impact of changes to the feed-in tariff on the economy of Cornwall. The council will now be calling on the Government to reconsider its proposal to introduce a 50kW limit for projects, utilizing the six week window given for feedback to the review.

The proposed cuts include making a dramatic chop to the amount of subsidy available for solar photovoltaics projects from 50kW to 5MW. The seriously reduced rates would make any scheme over the 50kW limit practically commercially unviable from August 1 this year.

“Making these changes will have a major impact on the UK’s renewable energy programme at a time when world events such as the disaster in Japan are leading to serious questions being asked about the Government’s nuclear energy plans,” said Tim German, the Council’s Renewable Energy and Partnerships Manager. “They will also affect the Council’s plans to develop solar energy projects as well as preventing major investment into businesses and communities in Cornwall.”

Cornwall Council began developing plans to set up a 5MW solar park on land at the edge of Newquay Airport last year following the introduction of the feed-in tariff. Similarly to other local authorities, the Council was hoping to use income generated from selling green energy from its solar parks to the national grid to help support its activities and services at a time when it has been forced to make savings of £170 million over the next four years as a result of a 30% reduction in Government funding.

Julian German, the Council’s cabinet member responsible for the green energy programme, said, “The Council has followed Government’s guidelines which allow us to generate green electricity and then sell it.  It is hard to believe that only six months after creating the legislation which allow us to take this route, they are now considering taking away the incentive that made it so financially viable.”

“We are extremely disappointed that on one hand the Secretary of State announced that local authorities have the opportunity to generate and sell electricity from renewable technologies, and yet now, on the other hand, they are planning changes to the feed-in tariff which is central to the profitability of our plans to take up this opportunity.”

In order to kick-start its efforts to fight the FiT cuts, Cornwall Council has held meetings with both Chris Huhne and Greg Barker in the past weeks in order to raise its concerns. Council leader Alec Robertson has also written to Greg Barker expressing the Council’s wish to work with the Secretary of State and his teams at DECC to ensure that Cornwall can effectively utilise its resources for renewable energy generation, low carbon business, jobs, skills and research.

“We feel that the activity which is being led by the Council in this area complements the Government’s ambition to be the ‘greenest government ever’ said Julian. “I believe we have put a strong case to the Government and we will continue to do this during the forthcoming consultation period”.

Thanks to its levels of solar irradiance (the highest in the UK) Cornwall has generated huge interest in PV development in the past few months. The changes to the FiT policy also put these projects at risk, potentially putting the breaks on millions of pounds of investment that was due to enter Cornwall. This will also have a knock-on effect on local communities and businesses which were set to benefit from community trust funds set up by the developers.

Carolyn Rule, the Council’s cabinet member for Economy and Regeneration said, “It is estimated that energy costs Cornwall, its businesses and communities, well over £1billion a year. We know that only 4% of the profits from the energy used in Cornwall actually remains in Cornwall and we need to reduce this amount of financial leakage in order to support our own economy.”

“So far not one commercial size solar farm has been built in the UK and, following these changes, I doubt if many will,” adds Rule. “However we are looking for some flexibility in the Government’s plans and are suggesting that certain things should happen Cornwall before the guillotine falls on the PV feed-in tariff as this will destroy a huge marketing opportunity for Cornwall as well as the rest of the UK, not to mention delivery against the target for PV agreed at European level.

“Cornwall Council has all the mechanisms in place to ensure delivery of a low carbon society. With planning, economic development and proposals around achieving a low carbon economy already in place in Cornwall, we are calling on the Government to devolve some of those responsibilities and share the opportunities with us.”

“These opportunities are here and we need to act now. We need to generate electricity and make money from it – for the Council, for Cornwall and for the country.”