21/12/2011 13:05 GMT | Updated 20/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Solar Panel Plans 'Legally Flawed'

Government plans to cut subsidies for solar panels on homes have been ruled legally flawed by the High Court.

The decision was a victory for environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth and two solar companies - Solarcentury and HomeSun - who challenged the proposals and said they were creating "huge economic uncertainty".

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne wants to cut feed-in tariff subsidies (FITs) - payments made to households and communities that generate green electricity through solar panels - on any installations completed after December 12 this year.

But Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in London, said the minister was "proposing to make an unlawful decision".

Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins said: "These botched and illegal plans have cast a huge shadow over the solar industry, jeopardising thousands of jobs. We hope this ruling will prevent ministers rushing through damaging changes to clean energy subsidies - giving solar firms a much-needed confidence boost."

The reductions are being hurried in because the Government believes they are too generous and costly in the face of the falling costs of solar technology and the number of people wanting to take advantage of the scheme.

Mr Justice Mitting said he was satisfied that the Government's proposals were already having "a significant impact" on the solar panel industry.

He declared that implementing Mr Huhne's proposals, as planned, in April next year by referring back to the December 12 deadline, which had fallen in the middle of a consultation period, would be unlawful.

He said the Energy Secretary was entitled to make modifications for "the statutory purpose" of promoting small-scale, low-carbon electricity generating schemes. But changes made by reference to the earlier date of December 12 "are not in my judgment calculated to further that statutory purpose".

The judge refused the Energy Secretary permission to appeal against his ruling, saying his "prospects of success" were insufficient to justify permission. The minister must now ask the Court of Appeal itself to hear his case. The judge said he would do all that he could to ensure an early hearing in the new year if the appeal judges agreed to hear the case.