SEUK: Investor tax breaks could support mid-sized solar market, says Abundance Generation

Senior UK solar industry figures have added their voices to calls for strengthened support for the mid-sized market for renewables with the suggestion that investor tax breaks could spur on the industry.

Climate and energy minister Greg Barker told Solar Power Portal at the Solar Energy UK exhibition in Birmingham on Tuesday that there was a need to remove "regulatory barriers" constraining the mid-sized PV market in the UK.

It is unclear whether the minister was referring to the current incentive scheme or alternative means to boost that segment of the UKPV industry.

"At the moment we can just about make the projects work financially for our investors," said Louise Wilson, co-managing director of crowdfunder Abundance Generation.

"It's delivering a good return but it's not knock out and we are still asking people to do something that is relatively new; there are risks."

"It [incentive rate] could do with being 5 to 10% higher than it is," she said.

Wilson believes there are alternative ways to support the sector beyond adjusting tariff rates however.

“The other way round it that we are more interested in is broadening the tax breaks for investors,” said Wilson. “There are lots of tax breaks for investors but most of them go into the pockets of the City because people open ISAs and they buy funds run by financial services companies and the tax break only helps those institutions."

Improving the investor landscape by cutting tax liabilities would help to bring some marginal projects over the line.

Abundance’s own solar energy investment offers are in the order of 250kW to 2MW. A new renewable obligation (RO) rate of 1.7 ROCs/MWh for commercial rooftops was set in April, 2013. It will fall by 0.1ROCs a year. This compares to 1.6 ROCs for ground-mounted solar and 0.9 for onshore wind.

"We now have the situation where the tariff keeps going down irrespective of the costs so it is only 3.5% at a go and if there isn’t enough volume [to trigger a cut] you get nine months at one level. That helps but it us very tight and a lot of tariffs are going to come down in January across a few of the bands. That is just making it tighter again," she added.

“It would be completely appropriate if the sorts of investments that we are making available to people should be bought by individuals and they should get a tax break, to go into the ISA. There are the beginnings of a conversation about that but it’s very much just the beginning. But if we could get some momentum behind that and give people the chance to make their own decision about where they spend their tax break, that would make a huge difference,” said Wilson.

“In some ways we already have the mechanism there, it’s not going to affect revenue into HMRC because people will decide to spread their allowance and it spreads the benefits of that tax break. It would also be for the benefit of renewables, [a sector] where we think the profile of the investment is really good for the retail investor. Much better than a managed fund that trades on the stock market which has all sorts of risks that you don’t understand, that the City doesn’t understand, as witnessed during the financial crisis.”

Steve Wade, managing director of UK distributor Wind & Sun, believes that getting the support for mid-scale solar right would have multiple benefits beyond the health of the industry.

“It makes sense to put PV on the roofs of industrial buildings; the buildings themselves are often large consumers of electricity. Commercial-scale solar decentralises generation and puts it near where it is consumed, which is good for the network,” he said.

“It would also mean that some of our installer customers who are working on smaller systems would be able to scale-up to do bigger jobs, grow their businesses and create employment opportunities and that would help us. None of those people are involved in the solar farm market,” he added.

Abundance Generation and BNRG Renewables were the winners of the Most innovative marketing campaign category at the Solar Power Portal Awards