At 11am this morning, bystanders on Westminster Bridge were witness to hundreds of UK solar supporters who lined up to campaign against Government’s decision to cut the feed-in tariff rates by more than 50 percent on December 12. In total, more than 500 solar activists grabbed their billboards and high-visibility jackets to march in support of Our Solar Future.
By 1pm the march had made its way to the Emmanuel Centre where campaigners could rest their feet while listening to guest speakers call for the Government to abandon the proposed cut to the feed-in tariff.
Chaired by Seb Berry, Head of Public Affairs for Solarcentury, the panel, which included Shadow Energy and Climate Secretary Caroline Flint, Green MP for Brighton Pavillion Caroline Lucas, Independent Advisor on Energy and Climate Policy for Friends of the Earth Alan Simpson and Chairman of the Solar Trade Association (STA) Howard Johns, spoke out against the cuts.
“This is a key, but disturbing moment for solar in the UK,” said Johns, addressing the room. “But today is your moment. What we’re doing here is the future.”
As each speaker expressed why they had come today to stand up against the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the room of solar industry workers and environmental campaigners including representatives from Keep Britain Tidy and the London Occupation at St Paul's Cathedral became increasingly animated. The prospect that this rally was more than just groundhog day for the UK solar industry began to breed excitement amongst those who had all but lost hope.
Flint, who has managed to secure an Opposition Day Debate tomorrow over the FiT cuts issue in the House of Commons, took to the stage to outline the effect the proposed cuts will have on the UK solar industry stating that the changes will be bad for jobs, the public and the environment. “Government is confused, chaotic and is sending out mixed messages in terms of what lies in our green future,” she said.
“Tomorrow we will be asking for the December 12 deadline to be voided. We will also be asking for the consultation to be a real one,” Flint continued, outlining that she has never come across a policy alteration that takes effect before the consultation period is over.
Taking to the stage to express her views on recent events, Lucas echoed Flint’s disappointment in Government, declaring that the decision to impose such deep tariff cuts in December “simply didn’t make sense.”
“We didn’t think that they [Government] would take environmental vandalism to such lengths,” she said, stating that the decision to cut the tariffs from December 12 is “nothing short of reckless sabotage.”
Taking a slightly different stance, Simpson impressed the room with his witty one-liners, expressing a very impassioned speech. After delivering his opinion of the cuts, and the effect they will have on industry, Simpson brought us back down to earth by saying that the work the solar industry is doing in the UK will not only benefit today’s generation, but will also provide a bright future for the children of tomorrow. Speaking fervently, Simpson said, “You may be the best hope my daughter has.”
Buzzing from the enthusiastic speeches, the room full of solar supporters emptied as the march made its way back down to the houses of Parliament where each and every member was given the opportunity to call out their MP. Soon enough, a great snaking line had formed outside.
Speaking with some of those waiting to get in, I was surprised at how positive the mood was in comparison to previous weeks.
Toby Ferenczi, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Engensa and one of the organisers of the march said how pleased he was with the turnout today. “We need to get the message out to the wider public, as once people realise they can make a difference, we will succeed,” he explained.
Another supporter, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “I’m really hoping that today will give Government the kick up the backside it needs in order to create the solar future we’re all working so hard to create.”
However Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins continued to express his anger at Government’s decision.
"The solar industry has been one of the UK's brightest success stories in the last two years, helping homes and communities across the country free themselves from expensive fossil fuels," he said. "We believe these plans are illegal as well as ill-advised - so we are taking action to bring ministers to court."
All MPs will be given the opportunity to vote tomorrow in the Opposition Day Debate over the FiT cuts issue in the House of Commons. If you didn’t manage to speak with your MP today, tell them you wanted to join the march, but were unable to make it. You can call your MP on 020 7219 3000 and ask for your MP's office. You will probably get to leave a message with a member of staff – but if there is no answer you can ask to dictate a short message and ask for it to be left on the House of Commons message board.