Welcome return for pre-accreditation despite wider concerns

Members of the community energy sector have welcomed the return of pre-accreditation as part of the government’s changes to solar subsidies, but have expressed concerns over the long-term impact of the consultation outcome.

The ability to pre-accredit under the feed-in tariff was removed in September this year after the government claimed it was accelerating costs brought about by higher than projected deployment. However, it has been reinstated to support deployment under cost controlling caps due in 2016.

Peter Andrews of Bath and West Community Energy said: “When we create a financial model to show to our investors, [pre-accreditation means] we can have some confidence in the numbers we give. Without accreditation, we had no idea. If you only know what you’re going to get when it’s built, you can’t expect people in the community to invest without knowing, so obviously that will help.”

Despite the return of pre-accreditation, community energy leaders have added their voices to those of installers and other figures in the renewables sector, all of whom have expressed various concerns over the new regime.

Emma Bridge, chief executive of Community Energy England, said: "The re-introduction of pre-accreditation for rooftop solar schemes over 50kW is welcome but overall we are very disappointed by the outcome of this consultation and the prospects for the community energy sector.

“Community owned schemes are accustomed to offering additional benefits such as reduced price electricity to schools and creating local funds for alleviation of fuel poverty. The initial feedback from our members indicates that at the rates applying from February 2016, most community owned rooftop solar schemes over 10kW will not be viable.

“We are also very concerned that operation of the caps will have a disproportionate impact on the community solar sector which has very limited resources to develop projects compared to the commercial solar sector.”

The caps have become been noted as a specific area of concern for many, with Gabriel Wondrausch, from SunGift Energy claiming they constitute “the worst thing you can do for a business.”

Jon Halle, one of the founding directors of social enterprise Sharenergy, added: "The caps for solar have been set at a very low level - 70 medium-scale rooftops across the UK per quarter is a derisory figure. Sharenergy expects these to be snapped up by well-resourced commercial operators leaving little or no opportunity for community-owned solar on schools and public buildings."

Despite the introduction of these measures, confidence remains that the community solar sector will continue on in spite of government intervention. Peter Andrews added: “Despite everything that the government has thrown at us, there is still incredible appetite to invest in these projects.

“It needs a regulatory framework to expand but the community energy business will not go away. We’re all too established now and we’re hell bent on surviving, and when we ask for investment from the public we are getting it. It just means there’s lower returns for the communities so less money into community funds and much more uncertainty. I’m pretty positive we’ll stay in business and expand, it’s just been made much more difficult which is odd from a government that says it wants to support community initiatives.”