Energy secretary Amber Rudd has ducked a series of questions over potential job losses in the solar sector but did offer a glimmer of hope for schools, public housing and community energy projects.
The secretary of state answered questions this morning during an energy and climate change oral and topical question session at the House of Commons, just a day after giving a landmark speech outlining her energy strategy for the comings years.
However Rudd was keen not to directly answer questions on potential job losses in the UK solar industry caused by contentious cuts to the feed-in tariff.
Rudd was pushed on the topic by a number of Labour MPs including shadow secretary Lisa Nandy but continually attempted to divert the topic, stating that it was “disappointing” that opposition MPs were zeroing in on job losses at a time when her department had just announced intentions to phase out coal plants within the next 10 years.
She did however argue that her plan involved support for the wider green economy, and insisted that she believed the UK solar industry would “continue to thrive”. This comes despite warnings from the Solar Trade Association that as many as 27,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the cuts and the collapse of a number of prominent installers since the consultation started in August.
But there was far more positivity on the public housing, schools and community energy front.
Rudd was pressed on the government’s commitment to community energy projects – previously outlined by the secretary of state – in the wake of cuts to investment tax relief under EIS, SEIS and SITR schemes enforced by HM Treasury late last month.
While Rudd did not comment specifically on that decision, she did state that DECC was continuing to investigate ways in which it could support community energy and that more details would emerge in due course.
The department is also looking into ways in which it could stimulate the uptake of solar on schools. Energy minister Andrea Leadsom was informed of one particular school in chancellor George Osborne’s constituency which wanted to install solar but was blocked from doing so because of current restrictions on what schools can borrow money for.
Osborne informed the school that he would do “everything he could” to help the school, but that he was in fact waiting for clarification on the subject from DECC. Leadsom said she was not aware of Osborne’s request, but clarified that there were no current plans to lift lending restrictions on schools at this moment in time.
Meanwhile Rudd said that more widespread installation of solar panels on public housing was of interest and had been flagged within the feed-in tariff consultation. An announcement is to be made in December, however this is not to be confused with the overall feed-in tariff response which Rudd said would be confirmed “as soon as possible”.