Economic illiteracy and green vandalism: Political pressure over BEIS solar policy gap ratchets up

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Political pressure on the government’s decision to close the feed-in tariff with no replacement scheme in place has ratcheted up ahead of the closure of a consultation on the future of solar policy in the UK.

This evening the government’s consultation on the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) – the proposed replacement for the feed-in tariff – closes, after which the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will prepare a response and policy position.

However the timing of the consultation has been much criticised. The feed-in tariff scheme will close to new applicants at the end of this month and there will be no policy support for small-scale renewables until the SEG is in place.

Yesterday Baroness Jones issued a Motion of Regret which, while largely powerless, opened the opportunity for the closure of the feed-in tariff to be debated in the House of Lords.

Jones opened the Motion by stating that she felt “so strongly” over the scheme’s closure that she had originally intended to table a humble address, a rarely-used constitutional instrument which would have petitioned the Queen for a response.

“I want to emphasise that the word ‘regret’ does not come anywhere close to my feelings on this issue. The government have behaved with economic illiteracy and I hope that, towards the end of the debate, I will ​hear from the minister that they will pause in the scrapping of the tariff until they have at least determined the level and the timing on the export tariff,” Jones said, before referencing the “enormous damage” the policy decision stood to cause the UK’s green economy.

“The stark reality is that the Government are throwing the domestic renewable industry off a cliff, with the vague promise that an ambitious new system might appear in time to save it. Plus we have no idea of the rate at which this energy will be valued,” she said.

Ex-Liberal Democrat MP Lord Teverson, whose party was instrumental in the creation of the feed-in tariff scheme, was also strong in his condemnation of the tariffs, arguing it to be an example of the “green vandalism we have seen so much of in renewables”.

Responding on behalf of the Conservatives, Baroness Vere of Norbiton stressed that it was the government’s intent to analyse responses to the consultation quickly.

“We propose to bring forward proposals in this area as soon as possible; we do not want to see a significant hiatus between the closure of the FiT scheme and the SEG scheme coming into force,” she said.

But her response was not well received and Jones dismissed it as “very poor”.

“It makes me wonder what the point of this sort of debate is if the government do not listen—if they do not understand that it is unacceptable for them not to accept that there could be not just a few jobs lost but thousands of jobs lost, as there were last time when the FiT was reduced,” she said.

Meanwhile, writing for Politics Home, Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach argued that while the Smart Export Guarantee constituted a “welcome commitment” from the government, there were several issues that needed to be addressed.

These include the need for a minimum ‘floor price’ for exported power and how, unless by some feat the SEG can be implemented in 18 days, there will be a policy gap after the FiT expires.

Sandbach is hosting a Westminster Hall Debate this afternoon during which energy minister Claire Perry will field questions on the closure of the scheme.