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Solar Power

Volume 525: debated on Thursday 24 March 2011

Analysis undertaken by the Department for Energy and Climate Change in February 2010 estimated that the feed-in tariff scheme would lead to the deployment of about 700,000 domestic solar photovoltaic installations by 2020. In the light of the reforms to the schemes and the falling costs, I believe that we can do significantly better than that.

In view of the need for certainty in Government policy, what representations has the Minister received from the investment community since the announcement of the review of the fast-track tariff in relation to solar power?

The investors who were looking to invest in larger schemes are disappointed; that is coming through as part of the consultation. This was a difficult decision, and I can assure my hon. Friend that it was not taken lightly. We are, however, absolutely convinced that it was the right thing to do. We inherited from the previous Government a complete mess of a scheme with no proper financial controls or economic modelling, but we have now taken measures that mean we will avoid the boom and bust that we have seen in other countries across Europe. We are providing a platform for long-term growth.

The decision on the feed-in tariff regime has caused great consternation in north Wales—so much so that the managing director of Kingspan, a company in my constituency, has written to me to say:

“DECC has potentially destroyed a renewables sector that is only some 11 months old and taken with it the jobs and growth opportunity that it would have provided for the UK economy in general and North Wales in particular.”

In the light of that comment from the managing director of a manufacturing company, will the Minister meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) and others to discuss this bad decision?

I profoundly disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have not cut the budget for the feed-in tariff scheme. We have put in place proper financial controls to ensure that there is money in the system through to 2014. I would be happy to meet him to discuss this matter further, but he must remember that the tariff changes apply only to systems larger than 50 kW, which is equivalent to the size of two tennis courts, and not to domestic housing.

Will my hon. Friend consider the letter has been sent to the Secretary of State from the Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network—the WREN group—in my constituency about community-based projects that might be bigger than the new threshold?

Community-based projects that are larger than 50 kW—about the size of two tennis courts—and up to 150 kW, which is significantly larger, will still get a tariff comparable to that paid in Germany. We should be competitive with Europe, and the pressure should be on manufacturers to reduce the cost of their products rather than to provide bonuses. We hope that many community projects, particularly those around the 100 kW size, will still be able to go ahead, but the pressure must be on manufacturers to bring down their prices.

The Minister has single-handedly destroyed the confidence of the solar sector and the wider renewables sector at a stroke, and personally shredded the Government’s green credentials. The Renewable Energy Association says that the industry has been “strangled at birth”. Sharp’s in Wrexham states that this was

“terrible news—effectively destroying the solar sector”.

The Solar Trade Association calls the decision “a total disaster”, and the Micro-Power Council says:

“The 50 kW plus sector may well wither on the vine: many jobs will go and businesses will see demand dry up.”

Is it not just sheer blind arrogance for the Minister to suggest that all those bodies are wrong and that only he is right?

The fact is that we inherited a complete pig’s ear of a scheme from the previous Government. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) voted against the scheme in 2008, yet they are now the heroes of the feed-in tariff. We have put in proper financial controls and the investment that will guarantee the system for the long term. I would have thought that, having driven the country into the ground, Opposition Members would be more financially prudent, but behold, on the Opposition Front Bench—

Order. Order. Let me just make it clear that when I say “Order”, the hon. Gentleman resumes his seat. It is as simple and unmistakable as that.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I can understand why the Minister is getting so agitated. I have only one more thing to add. Does he at least agree with this eminent expert on the importance of projects of up to 5 GW, who says:

“The idea behind it is to allow the inclusion of non-commercial scale projects, such as those that will be installed by homeowners, small businesses, local authorities, community groups, farmers and others. That would help out hospitals and schools that want to facilitate greater use of renewables and ensure low emissions as part of our 2020 targets.”—[Official Report, 18 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 144.]

Those are the words of the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), then the shadow Minister. Why is he wrong on this as well, and why is the Minister of State the fount of all knowledge?

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman has his numbers wrong: it is not 5 GW, but 5 MW—and 5 MW is still the equivalent of heating 1,500 homes. The fact of the matter is that the scheme we inherited from the previous Government—[Interruption] If the hon. Gentleman calms down, he will have the answer. Given the scheme we inherited, we had some choices to make: we supported either people in their homes, small businesses and communities or very large-scale schemes. We decided to support home owners and consumers; the hon. Gentleman can support big single investors. As I say, it is a clear choice.