DECC insists solar must ‘stand on its own two feet’ over job losses

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has responded to the recent spate of job losses in the solar industry by insisting the sector must “stand on its own two feet”.

Earlier this week Lightsource, the UK’s largest solar developer, announced that as many as 80 jobs – a quarter of its full-time workforce – were to be “reconsidered” following a strategic review of the business launched after a string of subsidy cuts.

The announcement followed a raft of small-sized installation businesses becoming insolvent, such as Freewatt, Eco Juice and Absolute Renewable Energy, with several others also understood to have filed for insolvency in the past fortnight.

While it is not clear precisely how many jobs have been lost from the solar industry to date, it is now certainly above 2,000 after more than 1,800 positions were lost in the immediate aftermath of the cuts last year.

But when asked by Solar Power Portal if DECC was considering extending support to the industry as a whole, much like the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has done for the steel sector, a spokesman replied that it was “only fair” that costs passed onto the consumer fell “as the industry establishes itself and costs fall”.

“Ultimately, we want a low carbon energy sector that can stand on its own two feet rather than relying on subsidies,” the spokesman said.

That would appear to be at odds with BIS’ stance on the prospect of thousands of job losses from the south Wales steel industry. Business secretary Sajid Javid has personally intervened in an attempt to help secure the future of the Tata Steel facility in Port Talbot, and earlier this week he claimed the government could “co-invest” with a private buyer to take on some of its debts.

The steel industry will also be a main beneficiary of the energy intensive industry (EII) exemption from renewable energy levies, which was confirmed during last month’s budget. That exemption will add £20 to consumer bills by 2020/21, a higher cost than the £17 the government claims to be saving consumers through reforms to the RO and feed-in tariff.

Meanwhile DECC remained silent on the controversy surrounding comments energy minister Andrea Leadsom made during the delegated legislation committee session on the draft RO closure last month.

During the heated debated, Leadsom claimed that it would be inaccurate to claim thousands of jobs stood to be lost from the solar industry following cuts to subsidies.

“We are aware that large-scale solar projects are coming forward without subsidy, so it is simply not true to say, as she [Labour MP Melanie Onn] did, that there are thousands of job losses and that there will be thousands more. There is no evidence for that,” she said.

The comments were made in spite of DECC’s own feed-in tariff consultation impact assessment warning that up to 18,700 jobs could be lost as a result of the cuts, and the fact that many installers had already gone out of business – most notably Mark Group.

Labour MP Onn later sought to clarify her comments in a Point of Order the next day, but was assured by the Speaker that the matter was “substantially one of debate and argument; she will say she is right and the Minister may well claim likewise”.

Onn then looked to clarify the matter further with a written question to the minister, however Leadsom’s reply centred on the number of jobs the industry could now support, rather than the number of jobs that stood to be lost.

DECC did not respond to that line of questioning when contacted by Solar Power Portal.