Solarlec is one of 14 companies claiming £132 million in damages from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The company’s director Nicholas Keighley tells Peter Bennett why the company felt legal action was necessary.

How did the government’s ‘legally flawed’ cuts to the feed-in tariff affect your business?

The government’s illegal action had a devastating effect on our business and even nearly three years on from the announcement is still having an effect. The immediate effect was the mad rush to get all our orders installed before the 12 December deadline, which was a period I would never like to go through again. It caused a great deal of stress for everyone working in the business, not only the work involved trying to get the installs completed in very difficult circumstances but also the worry of what would happen after the deadline. Would they still have a job? Would we still have a viable business?

We then had the period of time after the deadline had passed when DECC was consulting on how the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme would work moving forwards. Consumer confidence had been crushed and planning for the business was impossible as we literally did not know what the FiT rate would be from one month to another.

In the second half of 2012 our business lost money and in spite of growing the business in 2013 we only achieved a break-even position. It is only in the first half of 2014 that we have now returned to the level of profitability we need to sustain the business.

We did however manage to come through this very difficult period unlike a lot of other solar businesses. At the time of the announcement in October 2011 there were approximately 4,500 MCS registered companies in the UK and out of that figure over 3,000 of them are no longer registered. Those figures in themselves are an indictment of the damage DECC did to the industry with their illegal actions.

The ongoing legacy of what the government did is that there still is a perception amongst consumers that ‘the scheme has ended’, they have ‘missed the boat’ and that solar PV is no longer a viable option for consumers. It is only when they fully understand the benefits of what a PV system will give them that they realise what an attractive proposition PV still is.

Why did your company feel that joining the damages case was necessary?

We felt a great sense of injustice that what DECC did was not only badly thought out and unfair, but also questioned how could it be legal to launch a consultation and then predetermine the outcome before the consultation had even ended.

Why is it important to hold the government to account for acting illegally?

It is only right and proper that the government has to stay within the law. If these actions were not challenged there is a danger that DECC or the government in general could act in a similar fashion on other matters. It is also important for the long term future of the solar PV industry that we have certainty to enable us to grow our businesses and the industry.

How disruptive has the ongoing legal challenge been to your business?

The legal challenge itself has not been that disruptive to the business in itself aside from the time and effort we spent putting our claim together. The real disruption is that it is a distraction from what our time should be better spent doing, i.e. growing our business and creating more jobs.

Are you concerned that the ongoing legal battles will sour the solar industry’s relationship with the government?

It is very important that the solar PV industry has a good working relationship with the government as ultimately we both have the same goals and can achieve far more working together than fighting each other.

We feel it important however that DECC compensate us for the damage they illegally caused to our businesses, then we can put the issue behind us and look to build a good working relationship with the government moving forwards.

What are your thoughts on DECC’s decision to appeal the recent High Court ruling?

We are not surprised with their decision as they are acting to form as they have already tried to appeal their previous two defeats in court.

What is certain, however, is that DECC’s arguments do not withstand any serious scrutiny as Mr Justice Coulson’s judgement made clear.

DECC’s recent statement regarding the judge’s decision also highlights their lack of understanding of the situation.

They have stated they were ‘unhappy’ with the judgement which is hardly surprising as they lost the argument on all the key issues and go on to say they ‘thought they were making legal proposals’.

Everyone knows that ignorance of the law is no defence and they were warned by everyone in the industry from the date of the announcement to their defeat in the Appeal Court that what they were proposing was illegal, but they would not listen to reason and carried on regardless.

We hope that Mr Barker’s successor will come into his role and take a more objective view of the situation, acknowledge their actions were wrong and finally accept responsibility for them and settle the claim.

We are confident that even if DECC do get grounds to appeal they will be unsuccessful for the fourth time and we will ultimately win the case.

Looking forward, what are your hopes for the solar market in the UK?

The future of the solar PV market in the UK is very bright. Consumers are increasingly concerned about ever increasing energy costs and see solar PV as a way they can protect themselves from them. There have been more than 500,000 domestic PV installations in the UK and consumer confidence is returning.

We are also encouraged by recent government initiatives to promote solar PV for industrial rooftops and schools.

We hope this situation can be resolved quickly and can look to the future with renewed confidence.