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Investor confidence 'reeling' over Feed-in Tariff review

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Investor confidence 'reeling' over Feed-in Tariff review


Published by 24publishing for in Communities and also in Environment, Housing

Investor confidence 'reeling' over Feed-in Tariff review Investor confidence 'reeling' over Feed-in Tariff review

Government moves to prevent green energy subsidies going to commercial solar farms have been criticised by farmers who warn a lack of support for the schemes is a "huge missed opportunity".

Ministers announced they were reviewing the incentive scheme designed to boost small-scale renewables because they were concerned about large-scale solar farms being built in the countryside and cashing in on the funding.

But the National Farmers' Union said the large-scale solar schemes could provide green energy and boost the renewables industry without damaging the landscape, with the land also used for anything from free-range chickens to wildflower meadows.

Feed-in tariffs, which are financed by small increases on household energy bills, pay people and organisations for the "green" electricity they generate from small scale solar panels, wind turbines and other renewables.

But with subsidies paying out for solar electricity installations of up to five megawatts, the equivalent of 200 homes having the panels on their roofs, solar farms which stretch over a number of acres are being given the go-ahead.

The NFU's Jonathan Scurlock, chief policy adviser on renewable energy, said he was "gobsmacked" by the decision to review the feed-in tariffs scheme, which has undermined investment in large scale solar and renewable energy made from farm waste in a process known as anaerobic digestion.

Dr Scurlock said that the feed-in tariffs had always been expected to lead to the construction of a number of solar farms which would drive development of the supply chain but would ultimately be constrained by the sites and financing available.

The review looks at installations above 50 kilowatts (kW) - the equivalent of solar panels on around 20 homes - and as a result has not only thrown solar farms into turmoil, but projects by farmers to install the technology on barn roofs, as well as school, community and social housing schemes.

While the review looks at stopping subsidies to large-scale solar, it will also examine increasing payments for on-farm anaerobic digestion (AD). But Dr Scurlock said the current uncertainty surrounding the review had brought AD projects in the pipeline to a "screaming halt".

"We're seeing investor confidence reeling as a consequence of this. It's a very poor message to send out to investors in green energy," he said.

"It's bad news for all the farmers and their development partners who have committed tens of thousands of pounds so far in project development on the basis of a government-guaranteed, copper-bottomed renewable energy scheme."

He said the amount of land given over to solar farms would probably only reach 1,000 hectares by 2020 - a tiny fraction of the countryside - with most of the panels on flat land where they would not impede the view.

He said farmers had thought about the implications of taking land away from agricultural production, but added that solar farms were a "temporary and reversible" use of farmland.

"There are opportunities for dual-purpose use of land," he said.

Dual uses could include grazing sheep on the land between the solar panels, or using the fields for free-range poultry.

The land could also be managed for wildlife, benefiting from agri-environment schemes which pay landowners to take steps such as planting nectar-rich flowers, providing areas for ground-nesting birds or setting up bird and bat boxes.

Solar companies and affected organisations are considering applying for judicial review of the decision to review the tariffs.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "We don't want large scale solar installations to be claiming money meant for householders, small businesses and communities which is why we've launched a review.

"Farmers have an important role to play in green energy, not least in anaerobic digestion which is why we're looking to see if we're providing enough support for this technology.

"We will act on both of these issues by the summer to help bring long term certainty to the market while at the same time encouraging homes, communities and small firms to produce their own green electricity."


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