|April 19, 2011|
Solar firms file for judicial review against feed-in tariff cuts
|A group of 11 solar firms filed a claim in the High Court late yesterday, seeking a judicial review against energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne and his decision to launch a fast-track review of the feed-in tariff incentives available for larger solar installations.|
The legal action has been widely anticipated ever since the government shocked the industry by launching the surprise review on 7 February. It accuses the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) of reneging on previous commitments to not cut feed-in tariffs until 2012, and failing to adhere to its previously stated processes for reviewing the incentives.
Speaking on behalf of the group filing the claim, Mark Shorrock, chief executive of Low Carbon Solar UK, said that the companies felt that a judicial review was the "only course of action left" after raising their concerns over the proposed cuts with the government.
"We hope the secretary of state for energy and climate change will abandon this fast-track review and work with us to find a more appropriate solution for the future of the feed-in tariff," he said in a statement.
"In pulling back on a commitment to support solar energy, the government will cause the abandonment of hundreds of community-scale schemes. The cost of not getting this right, aside from the government meeting its climate change targets, include the creation of new jobs, a diversified income for farmers and landowners, reduced energy costs for businesses, and the provision of more secure and reliable energy for the UK."
Speaking to BusinessGreen, a spokeswoman for the group said that the companies were seeking an expedited judicial review that could be completed before the end of the government's consultation on its proposed cuts to feed-in tariffs, which is scheduled to end next month.
The legal challenge has been launched by Alectron Investments Ltd, Element Power Ltd, Juwi Renewable Energies Ltd, Lark Energy Ltd, Low Carbon Solar UK Ltd, MO3 Power Ltd, Donald Anderson, Guy Anderson, Kate Kenyon and The Green Company (Europe) Ltd.
However, the case will be watched closely by the wider solar industry. Many companies have warned that the proposed cuts to feed-in tariffs of between 40 and 70 per cent would make virtually all installations with more than 50kW of capacity financially unviable.
The application for a judicial review centres on a series of legal arguments relating to the government's handling of the fast-track review.
It notes that previous indications from DECC suggested that the first review of the feed-in tariff scheme would not take place until 2012, and no changes would be implemented until April 2013.
It also claims that, while DECC indicated in November 2011 that an earlier review might take place, this was originally intended to be carried out over a 12-month period with any changes to tariffs implemented from 2012. The government is now planning to impose any cuts to feed-in tariffs from the start of August.
The application points out that the government failed to announce a "trigger point", despite ministerial assertions that an early review would only take place once that pre-announced "trigger point" was reached.
Finally, it accuses the government of failing to provide adequate evidence that the UK is facing an "excessive deployment" of large-scale solar projects that will undermine the effectiveness of the feed-in tariff scheme. It argues that it is "irrational" for the government to cut incentives for cost-effective solar farms and larger installations when the UK has to meet legally binding renewable energy targets.
A DECC spokeswoman confirmed that the department had been served with a judicial review, adding that it would now consider the action.
"We support sustained growth in the solar industry and have proposed measures for consultation that will protect the FITs scheme for homes, small businesses and communities," she added. "We're currently consulting on proposals and would encourage those with an interest to respond. Solar PV schemes under 50kW are unaffected by the fast-track review."
The government has consistently argued that cuts to feed-in tariffs are required to stop large solar farms eating into the funds available for domestic rooftop installations. As such, DECC is widely expected to contest any judicial review.