Plans by 17 solar companies to sue the government over last year’s feed-in tariff cuts will "further damage” the UK PV industry according to its own trade body.
It emerged today that nine more companies have joined eight previously announced claimants seeking £140 million in damages from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for its allegedly “legally flawed” handling of last year’s FiT cuts.
But speaking to Solar Power Portal, Reza Shaybani, Chairman of the British Photovoltaic Association (BPVA), said: “Setting aside the legality or the morality of the case, we are concerned that such a legal action may further damage the investor and consumer confidence which the industry and the government have worked so hard in the past few months to restore.”
A number of the companies involved in the damages claim are registered as BPVA members. However, Shaybani stressed that the BPVA is not passing judgement on whether the legal action is right or wrong – that is a decision that the association is leaving up to its individual members, Shaybani said. But Shaybani added that “the long-term collective interest is more important than the short-term gain for a few companies”.
Indeed, it appears that the legal challenge is a polarising issue for the industry. The results of a recent poll on Solar Power Portal reveal that 46% of readers agree with the legal action with 54% opposing the claim.
The timing of the case is of particular concern to the BPVA, he explained: “I’ve done nothing but talk to members from manufacturers, distributors, installers, project developers etc. Almost everyone is saying that they see a good future for UK solar. There is a good buzz around industry and on the government side they are giving all the right signals. I just fear that if this comes out in the broadsheets and mainstream media, it could become another source of uncertainty for the public.”
It is no surprise that the BPVA is concerned about negative publicity; the effect of the industry’s vociferous lobbying against feed-in tariff cuts last year has been widely blamed for a complete loss of consumer confidence and a collapse in the market. Even the Climate Change Minister Greg Barker admitted in a speech to the industry that: "You’d be surprised how many people think that solar is no longer a viable proposition or, that somehow the solar FiT scheme has closed.”
Shaybani added: “For an industry that has taken so long to build bridges with the government, we feel that industry could be sacrificing long term benefit for short term gain. I do think if the case was to be successful it would open up the floodgates. And I’m afraid that if one claim is fought successfully, it will lead to other similar situations.
“The government has now realised the importance of solar PV in our energy mix and economy as whole and we should build bridges to a better future for the industry”.