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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

YouGen press release

Solar feed-in tariff consultation is a sham, say consumers

Posted on 21 December 2011 at 10:18 am

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 a recent survey of  YouGen users. When asked “Is it acceptable to set a cut off date for installations that is before the end of the consultation?” 91% of respondents answered No. Many also chose to comment, illustrating why they are so disillusioned:

“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.”

“Disingenuous. Suspicious. Untrustworthy.”

“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 on Friday 23 December, 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.

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.

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.

Only 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”.

“If the government wants to kill off the domestic market for solar PV, then this is a great way of doing it,” says Cathy Debenham, founder of YouGen, “but, it doesn’t make sense. Even with the much heralded Green Deal most households won’t be able to achieve an EPC level C without really significant spending – and certainly not under the ‘Golden Rule’. This means the feed-in tariff, which is funded by everyone’s taxes will be only available to a tiny minority of people.

“Also, the EPC is mostly about measuring heat loss, whereas for the vast majority of solar PV installations, the electricity generated by solar PV is used for lighting and running appliances. While it makes sense to introduce energy efficiency criteria for the renewable heat incentive, there’s no logic in linking it with the feed-in tariff. 

“Feedback from YouGen users indicates that they become much more interested and engaged with their energy use after they install solar panels. They value the electricity more, and use it more carefully, and are more likely to take other energy efficiency measures.  If the government is serious about the shift to a low carbon economy, it doesn’t make sense to kill one of the few ways that has caught the interest of the public.”

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]

“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.”

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, and 16 per cent that they don’t know. 

“We are calling on the government to uncap the budget, and provide enough support for the solar industry to grow and thrive and stand on it’s own merit,” says Cathy Debenham. “A recent YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has just demonstrated that there is huge support for solar power: 74 per cent of respondents 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. Government policy created the boom. Please make sure that it doesn’t cause a bust.”

Notes for editors

Details of what the feed-in tariff consultation means can be read here.

Read a summary of the survey results here (pdf download)

The YouGen survey was of subscribers to the YouGen newsletter and twitter followers. The 173 respondents are:
Microgenerators 53%
Considering installing microgeneration 17%
Not interested in microgeneration 0.6%
Installer or other industry professional 15%
Other 14%

The Sunday Times poll can be viewed here – it will download a pdf. See pages 9 and 10.

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