Court of Appeal: UK solar industry is left in limbo

Last week ended in a most disappointing fashion as the certainty the UK solar industry was promised never reared its much-anticipated head. After a long day filled with expectation, the Court of Appeal adjourned on Friday afternoon having moved nowhere at all.

After more than seven hours of discussion, the UK solar industry was left none-the-wiser as to what the feed-in tariff rates will be up until April 1 this year, as the battle between the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Friends of the Earth and two solar energy companies continued.

Releasing a statement on the outcome, DECC said: "The Court of Appeal has not yet decided whether to give permission for an appeal or made a judgement on the FITs case. The Court will wrap up the decision on permission for an appeal and a possible judgement if an appeal is allowed in the next few weeks. Once the outcome is known we will consider our options and make an announcement on the way forward to provide clarity to consumers and industry."

Plan B

Since the solar industry was offered no hope at the end of last week, many are now calling on Government to end the uncertainty by coming up with a plan B. Friends of the Earth have asked DECC to:

  • Put regulations before Parliament today to enable solar tariff payments to be cut by the end of February – in a forward looking and planned way, in line with falling installation costs, or,
  • Increase the amount of money available to the feed-in tariff scheme using the multi-million pound tax revenues generated by solar firms

The campaign group’s Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett said: “By pushing through with this appeal Ministers have prolonged the uncertainty hanging over the solar industry – now they must urgently come up with a Plan B to safeguard the 30,000 jobs under threat.

“David Cameron should put a proposal before Parliament on Monday to cut solar subsidy rates before the end of February – and give the industry some much-needed certainty.

“More money could easily be found to save solar from the multi-million pounds in tax that solar firms generate.

"Win or lose the Government must breathe life back into UK solar to help more cash-strapped families free themselves from soaring fuel bills by plugging into clean British energy.”

Meanwhile, David Hunt, a Director with Eco Environments, said: “The Government has not covered itself in glory during this whole sorry saga, and [Friday’s] outcome further exacerbates the negative impact of their actions.

“The industry needs to move forward without the prospect of months of continued uncertainty hanging over it […] the failure to even agree whether an appeal can be heard is another hammer blow to our industry – the only winners today are the lawyers.”

What is the outcome?

The results of the case, although still uncertain, have been mapped out by the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which anticipates:

  • If Government is not granted leave to appeal, the Consultation will be declared unlawful and the cuts would be nullified. Sources in the Court indicate that this is unlikely
  • If Government wins on appeal, the solar industry will be back to where it was before legal action began, i.e. Government will consider all responses to its consultation proposals, including the proposal that a domestic system (up to 4kWh) can expect to earn 21p from 1st April 2012
  • If Government does not win on appeal, then the 43p tariff could remain in place for all registered installations until the Parliamentary process has concluded (expected to be 1st April 2012, possibly earlier).

The Court of Appeal judges say it would be optimistic to expect a judgment this week but will do everything they could to get the judgment released on, if not before, February 9.