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Solar Power

Volume 614: debated on Tuesday 13 September 2016

5. What steps he plans to take, and by what date, to improve the performance of the feed-in-tariff scheme for solar power. (906278)

Solar deployment is a UK success story, with almost 11 GW of capacity now installed. While it is appropriate to allow for a period of stability following recent changes to protect consumer bills, the Secretary of State continues to keep the performance of the feed-in tariff scheme under review.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report in July showed almost 60% of companies are looking to diversify away from solar, and nearly four in 10 are considering leaving the solar market entirely, as a result of the Government’s policy changes. What steps will the Minister take to avoid business confidence in this important sector dropping further?

Actually, there is remarkably little sign that confidence in the sector is dropping. There is a recognition that those changes had to be made and the sector has responded remarkably resiliently. We must not forget that it has also been spreading expertise in solar internationally, which is another reason for thinking this is a real long-term success story.

I welcome the new ministerial team to their new roles. Kingspan, a significant employer in my constituency, has contacted me regarding concerns about the revaluation of business rates for cellphone rooftop solar. The result is a sixfold to eightfold increase in rates. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me and representatives from the company to see how these effects can be mitigated?

Kingspan is a company I know very well, since it has a substantial operation in Herefordshire. Valuations in this area are made by the independent Valuation Office Agency. The Department is liaising with the industry and the VOA on this issue, but I certainly would be delighted to meet Kingspan and my hon. Friend to discuss it.

On that matter, has the Minister carried out any analysis of the effect of the proposed hike in business rates on payback periods for commercial and rooftop solar, and particularly school solar? Does he intend to change the tariffs if the proposed business rate revaluation comes into effect?

I simply repeat that the matter is under review. We have not seen what the agency will propose, but we will look at it closely when we see what it suggests.

The Minister talks about stability, but there has in fact been a 93% drop in solar installations this year. Following a 64% cut in subsidy to solar and an eightfold hike in the proposed business rates, it would appear that the next attack on solar renewables is already being planned. Will he tell us whether it is through incompetence or calculation that the changes to grid charges put forward by the regulator to end the unfair advantage to highly polluting diesel generators will in fact have a negative impact on small-scale renewables such as solar?

It is widely understood that the sector needed some changes to the feed-in tariffs, because their effect was to hit consumers very hard in the pocket. These charges are paid by consumers. Let us not forget that 99% of all the solar panels installed have been installed over the past six years.