Changes To Feed In Tariffs Could Kill Solar Industry Says Local Group

Members of a local cooperative, set up to encourage the uptake of solar energy on the islands, have written to the Government to complain about proposed changes to Feed in Tariffs.

They say this will have a big impact on Scilly’s future energy sustainability and warn that a proposal to rate tariffs based on a home’s energy efficiency will make solar power unviable in Scilly.

The Government announced this month that it will bring forward a reduction in the tariff for solar energy generation from April next year to December 12th.

Currently, homeowners get paid 43.3p for every unit of electricity they generate. On top of this, they can use the electricity for their own means, or export the excess back into the grid and receive a payment for this.

However, the Government says it will reduce the tariff to 21p in December and this, says Maria Wilby from the Isles of Scilly Renewable Energy Cooperative (ISREC), will mean it takes longer to recover the cost of the system.

ISREC, a not for profit co-operative, has established a ‘Solar Club’ which offers advice and access to discounted equipment through a deal with a Cornish solar panel supplier.

In their letter, the group say this scheme is now under threat.

Maria says 22 people had signed up to have solar panels installed although about 20% have pulled out since the tariff changes were announced.

One of the problems has been that, since the deadline was brought forward, there has been a massive rush nationwide to get panels up and running before the new tariffs kick in, and this has meant installers are struggling to meet demand while the price of panels is increasing.

Maria told us that, even after the tariff is reduced in December, solar panels could still prove to be a cost-effective investment for homeowners, although the time taken to break even will extend from about 8 to around 14 years.

But Maria says many people are unaware that a much more important deadline is looming, that could make solar energy generation unviable on the islands.

From next April, the Government is proposing that feed in tariffs reflect the energy efficiency of the home on which panels are installed. This could be as low as 9p for the least efficient houses and Maria says many older, stone-built properties in Scilly would fall into this category.

ISREC have asked the Government to subsidise home insulation for such properties.

The changes proposed by the Government have left a booming industry unsure about it’s future and brought into question the expansion of solar energy. Many companies hired extra fitters to take on the work but have now said they’ll be laid off before Christmas.

Maria says ISREC have had to scale back their own plans, including a “rent-a-roof scheme”, for people who don’t have their own roof space, or can’t fund their own equipment, since the predicted return on investment was based on numbers that are changing.

But she says the co-operative is not giving up and will adjust its model to “ride the storm”, adding that in such an uncertain environment, things can change very quickly.