The government’s decision to fight for the right to reduce the solar power subsidy tariffs in the Supreme Court has been criticised by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.
She said: “Having lost twice in the Court of Appeal and been roundly humiliated over the shambolic handling of solar policy, it absolutely beggars belief that the Department for Energy and Climate Change is apparently planning to appeal to the Supreme Court.”
Background to the dispute
The feed-in-tariffs (FITs) guaranteed that adopters of this renewable and clean form of energy would receive 43p for every kWh of electricity their green panels generated. Late last year, at very short notice, the government announced that the FIT rate would be reduced to 21p per kWh for all post-December installations. This sparked a so-called ‘gold rush’ of customers looking to enjoy the benefits of the higher rate – an understandable situation given that the rate applies for 25 years.
Not everyone beat the deadline.
Further uncertainty ensued when High Court Judges ruled that it was illegal for the tariff to be reduced before the end of an official government-solar panel industry consultation period.
When the Court of Appeal this week (25th January 2012) ruled that the government had no right to appeal against the decision, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced that the battle would be taken to the Supreme Court – the highest court in the land.
With the government still seeking leave to overturn the decision, a new cut-off date of 3rd March was established – any homeowners installing solar panels after this date have been guaranteed that they will not receive less than 21p per kWh.
As the Supreme Court might re-examine the case, people who have had solar panels installed between 12th December and March 3rd have been left in limbo – unsure whether they will receive the 43p or the 21p FIT rate.
Caroline Lucas commented: “The very least that the Secretary of State can now do is to show some integrity, accept that his ministers got it wrong on solar, and pull the plug on this legal merry-go-round which is putting UK jobs and future investment at risk.”
The MP’s views are supported by Confederation of British Industry director general John Cridland, who said: “The High Court judgement should be used to draw a line under this saga, which saw the government scoring a spectacular own goal and confidence in the renewables sector undermined.”
However, Chris Huhne seems in no mood to accept the High Court decision and had further bad news for the industry. He said: “We cannot rule out the possibility that lower tariffs could be applied to installations which become available for FITs on or after the proposed reference date.”
According to Solar Power Portal website, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will be able to consider the case before the 3rd March deadline. It can take weeks for the court to decide whether the case is deemed appropriate to be heard and it can take months to arrange a sitting.
While the judges deliberate and government ministers prevaricate, now could be a good time for people to have solar panels installed – before the FIT rate is lowered again.