A group of 100 of the UK’s leading community energy groups has pleaded with chancellor George Osborne to reverse community energy tax relief cuts as Balcombe has been forced to shelve its own solar farm plans.
Pressure on the Treasury to shelve the plans ratcheted up yesterday afternoon as an open letter addressed to Osborne was sent, co-authored by prominent community energy companies and led by Community Energy England’s Emma Bridge.
The letter argued that the decision went against the Conservative Party’s election manifesto to “give more people the power and support to… start their own social enterprise” and claimed the changes would be the “final nail in the coffin” for future projects.
“Radical and wholly unexpected changes to the Finance Bill will decimate the [community energy] area that has shown by far the greatest potential for community share issues – community energy,” the letter stated.
It was published just hours after Labour and Co-operative MP Steve Reed called for a parliamentary debate on the subject and in the same week Luton South MP Gavin Shuker also addressed the chancellor seeking any evidence that HMT had gathered to support the decision.
And just hours after the letter, campaign group REPOWERBalcombe announced that the cuts had forced its hand and that its plans to develop a community 5MW solar park at Chiddinglye Farm would have to be abandoned.
Last month the project was given the green light and plans had been in place to offer residents of the town, which had been targeted for fracking by oil and gas conglomerate Cuadrilla, the chance to purchase shares to contribute towards its funding.
But the group announced yesterday that those plans had been cancelled just as it was about to purchase the rights to the farm due to the difficulties it would have experienced in getting the project off the ground because of changes to tax relief, on top of the cancellation of pre-accreditation and plans to cut the feed-in tariff by as much as 87%.
“We are bitterly disappointed that it has come to this, especially after so much hard work has gone it. The mechanics of a project of this scale and how policy changes impacted us is complex and there will be a fuller explanation on our website in due course,” REPOWERBalcombe said in a statement published on its website.
The group did however state that the developer associated with Chiddinglye Farm was still committed to it and are now working to secure the capital required to get it operational.