THE BLOG
09/11/2011 18:14 GMT | Updated 09/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Has Cameron Given Up 'Greenest Government' Pledge?

As Christmas presents go, the coalition government's plan to slash feed-in tariffs and jeopardise the future of the solar industry is a pretty miserable one to say the least. It's all very well hugging a husky in promotional photos, but we need action.

As Christmas presents go, the coalition government's plan to slash feed-in tariffs and jeopardise the future of the solar industry is a pretty miserable one to say the least. It's all very well hugging a husky in promotional photos, but we need action from this government if it is to deliver on even its own targets for greenhouse gas reductions - and yet the government's actions seem to be taking us in the wrong direction.

So why the fuss? Solar panels or photovoltaic panels use the energy emitted in solar rays and convert it to electricity. This way of sourcing energy is not only environmentally friendly but also a secure way of meeting our energy needs and keeping prices down in the future.

The UK is a long way behind other European countries in terms of the proportion of our energy that is produced from clean, renewable sources - even though we are blessed with huge potential from wind, wave and solar power.

Since the solar feed-in tariffs (FIT) were introduced in April 2010 we have started to catch up. Organisations and individuals have seen that they will be able to get a financial return on the investment they put into solar installations and this has given the UK solar industry the kick-start it needs. There have been some 100,000 solar installations, the creation of more than 25,000 jobs and almost 4,000 new businesses.

But the government plans to cut FIT payments from 43p per Kwh to just 21p - a move which will dramatically undermine the progress we have been making. And furthermore the date when the new rate is brought in has been moved from 6 April 2012 to 12 December 2011 - earlier than the deadline for its own consultation on the issue!

Not only does this further undermine the credibility of government consultations but it is putting many solar businesses at risk whilst forcing other organisations and households that have been planning solar installations to think again. Thousands of solar panels will be delivered to businesses gone bust. Thanks to the lack of notice of the change, residents who have bought into the scheme but not yet had their panels installed are now being hung out to dry by the government. Many customers have cancelled orders concerned that they wouldn't be able to meet 12 December deadline.

At a time when the UK is being held to ransom by the big energy companies and dwindling fossil fuel reserves thrusting 5 million into fuel poverty, I am unable to understand the logic of the government's decision. The solar industry was expecting a review of the FIT rate, but not one that cut it by halve and not one that came in four months earlier than planned.

As a country we urgently need to be investing in measures that will create a secure energy supply for the future and tackle fuel poverty. This means a nationwide programme to insulate people's homes and investment in clean, renewable energy. This is a far more efficient use of taxpayers' money than the huge government subsidies needed for new nuclear power stations. But sadly this government is taking us in the wrong direction and seems to have completely given up on its pledge to be the 'greenest government ever'.

As always it is those on the lowest incomes who will suffer the most. This cut will jeopardise free solar schemes for people unable to afford the upfront costs of solar panels and is forcing councils to review schemes to install solar panels for council tenants and on other council buildings - schemes which, under the current FIT rate, were enabling local councils to generate a profit that can be invested in services that are under threat from government cuts.

By investing in renewable technologies, not only does the government help combat climate change and create jobs but it gives councils a further incentive to help the fuel poor and increase local authority revenue. It seems perverse that the solar industry should be so dramatically punished for doing well at a time when financial institutions are being rewarded for failure. This topsy turvy mentality appears to be the hallmark of this government.