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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

YouGen Blog

Solar feed-in tariff consultation is a sham, say YouGen users

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 21 December 2011 at 12:26 pm

Disingenuous. Suspicious. Untrustworthy. These are just some of the words used by respondents to our recent survey (pdf) to describe the government's consultation on the feed-in tariff (FIT) review.

By setting a cut off date for installations that is before the end of the consultation the government has undermined trust in the consultation process according to respondents. 91 per cent said it is not acceptable to set a cut off date for installations that is before the end of the consultation.

Reasons include:
“To do so indicates the consultation is a hollow exercise with no intention of the feedback from the consultation making any difference.
“Suggests that the consultation is a sham.”
“This negates the benefit of having a consultation as it implies that the decision has already been made.”
“It’s the only thing about the review that I think is wrong – it’s too rushed and everyone thinks it’s a foregone conclusion.”
“Just another cynical exercise in ‘consulting’ and then doing what’s already decided anyway.”

The consultation, which ends in two days time proposes to reduce the feed-in tariff rate for domestic scale solar PV installations (up to 4kWp) to 21p from the current rate of 43p. That is too low according to 63% of respondents, with 35% saying it’s about right, and just 2% who think it’s too high.

One of the proposals in the review that is likely to have the most significant impact on future take up of the feed-in tariff is the introduction of strict energy efficiency criteria for eligibility post April 2012. The proposal is that buildings must reach energy efficiency standards of EPC level C or above before the owner can claim the feed-in tariff. Less than 10 % of houses, and 34% of flats are currently rated C or above according to figures in the most recent housing survey.

Just 18 per cent of respondents thought that this was a sensible criteria. A further 26 per cent agreed with the idea of energy efficiency criteria, but felt that EPC level C is setting the bar too high. More people were against the idea, with 19 per cent agreeing with the statement “no, microgeneration is  not related to building performance” and an additional 31 per cent saying “no, microgeneration brings people in touch with energy use and is a good trigger for energy efficient behaviour”.

Comments from respondents on this point include:
“It could be argued that microgeneration is of itself a way of increasing energy efficiency”. [Indeed it is listed on EPCs as a way of doing just that - Ed]
“Having installed PV at our house I’ve seen the way it’s changed the whole household’s attitude to energy consumption for the better. A better solution would be to train microgen installers to be ambassadors in energy conservation, and make making such recommendations a compulsory part of the PV design process.”
“Energy efficiency IS an important issue, but it is separate from the issue of sustainable generation.”
“Microgeneration income was going to finance improved insulation, like triple glazing and advanced heating controls.”
"People in old houses have considerable difficulty in meeting thes requirements and so a pragmatic and sensible approach needs to be taken to ensure that the energy efficiency requirements are reasonably achievable."
"This could mean that owners of older properties might never be able to claim feed-in tariffs.'
"First rule is insulate, it should be strictly adhered to."
"Depending on how a property is constructed, it is only possible to do so much. If you can generate your own electricity it would compensate for not being able to bring a building up to ideal standards."
"They are totally unrelated. The efficiency requirement is a con to limit demand."
"My guess is that the majority of people who have gone for solar PV will not be using it for heating and will tend to have efficient electrical devices so thermal losses are not all that relevant."

The coalition government capped the budget for the feed-in tariff when they were elected, which has led to the need for these emergency cuts, so we asked whether users thought it was right to cap the budget. Just 30% said yes. 55 per cent said no, with 16 per cent saying that they don’t know.  

Nearly half of the respondents said that the review has affected them personally. Some just got in ahead of the deadline; others cancelled planned installations; and some are waiting and seeing. When asked if they would still go ahead and install solar PV at the new rate there was no consensus: 25% said yes, 32% maybe, and 42% that they would not.

We believe that the government should uncap the budget, and provide enough support for the solar industry to grow and thrive and stand on it’s own merit. There is huge support for solar power: 74 per cent of respondents in a recent YouGov poll (see p 9 & 10 of pdf) for the Sunday Times think the government should look to use more than at present. The Renewable Energy Association says that the cost of solar is falling so dramatically that in about five years time it should cost no more to generate one’s own solar than to buy it from an electricity company. Recent figures from the Committee on Climate Change show that it's the increase in gas prices that have had the most impact on recent energy prices not, as some newspapers have been claiming, the government's renewable energy incentives. Government policy created the solar boom. We really hope that it doesn't now cause it to bust.

Photo by OregonDOT

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