Friends of the Earth, Homesun and Solarcentury’s appeal to the High Court over the Government’s handling of the feed-in tariff has ended in victory, as Mr Justice Mitting upheld the legal challenge, stating that it was “legally flawed”.
The court agreed that proposals to cut feed-in tariff payments for any solar scheme completed after December 12 - 11 days before the official consultation closed - were unlawful.
The judge’s ruling allows a judicial review to be enacted that could force the Government to relaunch its consultation on feed-in tariffs. The group’s lawyers have moved to remove the Government’s proposals to slash the feed-in tariff rate afforded to solar PV installations after December 12, which was slashed by more than 50 percent.
Lawyers representing the Department for Energy and Climate Change have been refused permission to appeal the decision. . However, the Government will formally peruse permission to appeal, which is expected to take place in January.
In light of the ruling, Friends of the Earth has called on the Government to allocate more money for solar installations, paid for by the revenue the industry raises for the Treasury, the removal of planned restrictions that would prevent poorer households from installing solar panels and more support for community-owned schemes.
Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins said: “Ministers must now come up with a sensible plan that protects the UK's solar industry and allows cash-strapped homes and businesses to free themselves from expensive fossil fuels by plugging into clean energy.
"Solar payments should fall in line with falling installation costs but the speed of the Government's proposals threatened to devastate the entire industry."
Chairman of Solarcentury, Jeremy Leggett commented: "The Court has stopped Government abusing its power but it doesn't make up for the fact that DECC has created chaos for the renewable energy industry as a whole, and not just solar.
“Solarcentury was very reluctant to take this legal challenge but DECC gave us no choice. All of this could have been avoided if DECC had done a proper consultation last summer, as they promised, and engaged constructively with the solar industry. I do hope that DECC will now engage properly with the industry, so that together we can build a viable solar industry in the UK, as they have in Germany."
The result of the hearing will be greeted with mixed emotions throughout the industry. Many believe that the Government’s actions have thrown the small-scale solar industry into a state of huge economic uncertainty with the proposals. However, members of the industry are concerned about the ramifications of the victory, which is feared, could damage the industry in the long run.
As Solar Power Portal revealed earlier this week, the incredible installation figures posted by the solar industry in the run up to December 12 could prove catastrophic to the industry. If the Government is forced to honour installations at the previous 43.3p/kWh rate, then the budget set aside for the feed-in tariff scheme would be consumed entirely (Analysis by Feed-in Tariffs Ltd predicts that almost 90 percent of the 4 year budget is already consumed). Insiders are concerned that if the budget is completely exhausted, the Government would be able to act under emergency review and shut down the feed-in tariff scheme.
What the ruling means for the future of the feed-in tariff, is that no new consultation will be set out, but the legislation must be laid in Parliament for 40 days. The implication is that the old feed-in tariff rates will return and cannot be changed by the Government until mid-February at the earliest, unless the Government win their appeal in early January.