Sunderland firm fears darks clouds loom over solar plan

Gerard Harrison shows the solar panels in the process of being fitted to his home  in Glenesk Road, Sunderland

Gerard Harrison shows the solar panels in the process of being fitted to his home in Glenesk Road, Sunderland

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PLANS to slash a green scheme aimed at encouraging homeowners to switch to solar power will cost jobs and cripple the fledgling industry, a Wearside businessman claims.

Ministers plan to cut feed-in tariffs (Fits) – which ensure a return for homeowners who install electricity-generating solar panels – by 50 per cent next month.

The Government claims a surge in installations has put a strain on budgets, but Gerard Harrison, founder of Sunderland-based solar-power firm Helios Eco Solutions, said the move showed a devastating short-sightedness.

He said: “Drastic cuts to the feed-in tariff will have a devastating effect on the solar photovoltaics (PV) industry. Removing the financial incentive for homes, communities and businesses will no doubt result in job losses in what was an expanding market for renewable energy.

“There are currently 25,000 people employed in this sector, with the vast majority of jobs created in the last 18 months.”

Mr Harrison, who set up Helios last year, said his firm had a highly-skilled workforce working in both PV and electrical contracting and the sector had an important part to play in the future economy.

He said: “I firmly believe there is a future in renewable energy due to the rising costs of fossil fuels, but ill-conceived Government policy makes it very difficult to create employment due to the lack of cohesion and forethought.”

At present property owners who install solar panels can not only save money on their electricity bills, but receive an income from the amount of energy they feed into energy suppliers.

The scheme was set up to help promote green energy production and cut carbon emissions by making solar panels a more financially-attractive option.

Since the scheme set up in April last year, the cost of an average domestic PV installation has fallen from around £13,000 to £9,000.

Energy minister Greg Barker said a rise in the number of installations meant the Government has been forced to issue proposals for reduced subsidies for domestic solar electricity production in an attempt to keep the scheme’s budget under control.

Mr Barker said: “The plummeting costs of solar mean we’ve got no option but to act so that we stay within budget and do not threaten the whole viability of the Fits scheme.”

City of Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods is among those to have rubbished the proposals.

She said the plans meant customers who register for the scheme after December 12 will see their return halved – even if they have already paid a deposit.

“The Government’s plans to change the feed-in tariff for solar PV is yet another attack on jobs and workers in one of our most valuable and important industries,” she said.

“The rushed and ill-thought through plans put many jobs and businesses in the solar industry at risk and will also have a severely detrimental impact on the many people they supply.

“On top of this, the plans hit the renewable sector – one of our most critical growth industries – at a time when the Government should be doing all it can to encourage renewable and sustainable growth.”

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