STA accuses government of ‘artificially holding back’ solar PV

The Solar Trade Association (STA) has responded strongly to a lack of solar policy announcements within today’s Clean Growth Strategy reveal, arguing that the government is “artificially holding back” the technology.

And in what could be a longer-term development, the trade group has said it will continue to examine solar's continued exclusion from renewable energy auctions over potential state aid infringements.

This morning the government published its long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy featuring little in the way of solar-specific announcements. Large-scale solar was not mentioned, while the only supports for small-scale renewables on offer related to possible actions post-2019.

This comes despite, the STA today pointed out, solar being “implicit” in many other policies set to be implemented, including those covering electric vehicle charging, public sector emissions reduction and industrial sector efficiency.

Chris Hewett, policy manager at the STA, said it seemed “extraordinary” for the government to fail to respond to calls for a level playing field with other technologies.

“This technology will dominate global power supply in years to come so in the interests of UK plc, the government needs to stop putting the UK solar industry at a competitive disadvantage.

“Whether it is tax breaks for fossil fuels, a continued emphasis on big centralised power over local power, or access to auctions - solar is not being treated fairly. Solar empowers local people and communities, and it stimulates smart innovation more than any other energy technology.

“That's why communities and city leaders all over the UK want to see the government support solar power. The British solar industry is being artificially held back by the government and that doesn't help consumers, innovation or local leadership,” he said.

Of particular contention will be solar’s continued exclusion from competitive auctions under the Contracts for Difference mechanism, an exclusion which has now extended beyond two years.

Yesterday the government announced £557 million of funding for future auctions, starting in spring 2019, for less-established technologies. However BEIS went on to clarify yesterday evening that the auctions would allow onshore wind farms on Scottish islands to compete for support under that guise.

That decision renders large-scale solar PV as the only renewable technology to be excluded from the process outright.

STA chairman Jonathan Selwyn said the association would be “looking carefully at the implications” of solar’s exclusion, making specific mention of state aid rules that forbid such a move.

“Solar power is transforming global energy systems. Until this year, the UK was at the vanguard of this movement. It therefore beggars belief that the government’s [Clean] Growth Strategy almost totally ignores solar power - the most popular and cost-effective means of driving the UK’s energy transformation.  We call on the government to shake off its blinkers and provide a level playing field for all energy technologies to ensure the solar industry, consumers, local people and the environment get a fair deal. This will enable solar to take its rightful place at the heart of clean growth,” Selwyn added.

While the STA has not explicitly mentioned it to be under current consideration, one such move it could consider would be a judicial review which have been used to examine alleged breaches of state aid rules in the past.