Greater Manchester Joins Call on Government Not To Turn Lights Out On Solar Energy
Businesses, councils and MPs across Greater Manchester are backing Friends of the Earth’s Final Demand campaign, calling on the Government to urgently rethink its proposal to slash support for solar energy.
Friends of the Earth was instrumental in persuading the Government to introduce a feed-in tariff – a financial incentive for households and communities to generate their own renewable electricity – in April 2010. The Government is consulting on plans to cut the feed-in tariff for solar panels by more than half for installations completed after 12 December. 
Friends of the Earth is taking the Government to court on the grounds that this cut-off point, two weeks before the consultation ends, is unlawful and has evidence that projects are already being abandoned and solar firm redundancies have either taken place or are being urgently considered.  The High Court has agreed to hear applications by Friends of the Earth and two solar companies – Solarcentury and HomeSun – for permission to challenge Government plans to slash financial incentives for solar electricity on Thursday 15 December 2011.
The premature cuts could cost up to 29,000 jobs and lose the Treasury up to £230 million a year in tax income, a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth and Cut Don’t Kill – an alliance of solar firms and consumer and environmental organisations – revealed last month.  Last week construction firm Carillion warned 4,500 workers their jobs are at risk because of the Government’s proposals. The CBI has condemned the move as an “own goal” by Ministers. 
Friends of the Earth’s Final Demand campaign is calling on the Government to urgently rethink its proposals. Over 150 MPs, councils and other organisations have signed a joint statement in support of the campaign, including Manchester City Council, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and local MPs John Leech, Tony Lloyd and Hazel Blears. 
In addition, more than 16,000 members of the public have signed an online petition to David Cameron urging him to launch an independent public inquiry into the Big Six energy companies’ power over consumers and influence over politicians, and not to axe support for clean British energy produced by communities, councils, business and householders. 
Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said:
“I am deeply concerned by the dropping of the Feed-In Tariff proposed by Government. Manchester City Council had a number of Solar PV projects in development that would have installed solar panels on three of its buildings by the end of March 2012. The authority has now had to withdraw two of these projects and the last is being re-evaluated due to the high risk now posed by the Feed-In Tariff review.
“In addition, the proposed timing of the change has had a major impact on the Solar PV programme being delivered by Manchester City Council and our ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation), Northwards Homes. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of panels being installed, with 1400 households in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods missing out on the benefit of free electricity.
“This is deeply disappointing as significant time and effort had been spent developing these projects, which would have supported the development of low-carbon jobs and demonstrated our local action on climate change by cutting carbon emissions and reducing energy costs.”
Todd Holden, spokesperson for the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said:
“As well as playing a significant role in our move away from the current centralised, insecure, carbon intensive energy supply system, the uptake of small scale PV helps raise awareness and changes people’s view of how we all use energy.
“While still in its infancy this is a large, high growth sector with great potential, it needs to be nurtured to succeed. The changes as proposed not only put this sector at severe risk but also risk undermining the Government’s flagship Green Deal programme.”
Stephen Beech, owner of Manchester-based Beech Properties , said:
“This is having a massive impact on us as a solar installer as we’ve recently taken on new staff to carry out installations with our order book increasing daily. We’ve now been forced to lay off these staff and cancel orders with our suppliers.
“Also, as a landlord, it prevents us developing any more energy efficient properties. We won the UK’s best energy efficient refurbishment award this year by increasing our properties’ energy efficiency (EPC) rating from a G to an A. This announcement effectively stops us renovating any more as I simply couldn’t afford to do so.
“As well the negative effect this has on my business, it will disappoint the hundreds of tenants who are queuing up for energy efficient properties to lessen the impact of spiralling energy prices.”
Charlie Baker from the Carbon Co-op  said:
“This cut at such notice tears up the business plans of organisations like the Carbon Co-op that are vital to getting communities to work together to deliver the much needed cuts in emissions and the even more needed jobs that go with them. What message does this send out about this Government’s commitment to localism?
“It is crucial that cuts differentiate between making money and making change. It is fair that the former is reduced but the latter is too important. The new rates must reflect this difference so that groups that can prove that they are recycling money to fund further carbon reduction work receive a rate that enables that to continue.”
John Leech MP said:
“Solar has been the real success story for the renewable industry. We can’t afford to jeopardise thousands of jobs by slashing the feed in tariff and creating uncertainty, giving the industry no time to adjust.”
Tony Lloyd MP said:
“These rushed and ill-thought through plans will put thousands of jobs and businesses in the solar industry at risk, make it much more difficult for families, community groups, hospitals and schools to install solar power. This puts lie to the Prime Minister’s promise to be the Greenest Government ever and are evidence of just how out of touch this Government is.
“I can assure you that I will continue to oppose the devastating attack on Feed-in Tariffs and push for a fairer deal for the people of Britain on energy prices.”
Ali Abbas, lead climate campaigner at Manchester Friends of the Earth, said:
“This sudden and savage cut to support for solar energy is putting jobs at risk and threatening community projects in Greater Manchester and beyond.
“We’re delighted that politicians, community groups and businesses across the city are backing our Final Demand campaign to save the feed-in tariff.
“If you’d like to add your voice to the campaign, you can sign our online petition at www.foe.co.uk/finaldemand.”
NOTES TO THE EDITOR
1. On Monday 31 October 2011 the Government launched a public consultation on plans to slash small-scale solar power subsidies by more than 50 per cent. http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn11_091/pn11_091.aspx
2. Friends of the Earth says the Government’s actions are unlawful because:
– It will unfairly cause the abandonment of numerous planned solar schemes that would have been completed between 12 December and April 2012;
– The wording used in the Government proposals indicates there is little prospect that Ministers will keep an open mind about representations made while the consultation period is ongoing – something they are legally obliged to do.
3. Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to:
– maintain existing tariff payments to all qualifying solar schemes completed by 1 April 2011
– extend the consultation period to Friday 17th February 2012, at the earliest.
5. The Government’s decision to slash solar funding was described by the CBI as an ‘own goal’ (Thursday 10 November 2011)
6. The joint statement can be found at: http://bit.ly/solarjointstatement
The following signatories are from Greater Manchester: Hazel Blears MP, Paul Goggins MP, Andrew Gwynne MP, John Leech MP, Tony Lloyd MP, Michael Meacher MP, Beech Properties, Carbon Co-op, Cooler, Creative Concern, Didsbury Park Properties, DOC Solar & Electrical Solutions Ltd, EMERGE, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Kindling Trust, Levenshulme Community Association, Manchester City Council, Manchester Environmental Education Network, MERCi, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, Urban Splash.
7. The Final Demand online petition can be found at: http://www.foe.co.uk/finaldemand
8. Beech Properties won the Green Landlord of the Year at the 2011 Landlord & Lettings Awards and was highly commended in the Energy Excellence Award category at the 2011 Global Energy Institute (EI) Awards. For more information, visit http://www.beechproperties.co.uk
9. The Carbon Co-op aims to make it simple, cheap and easy for households, streets and neighbourhoods to come together to retrofit their houses through the purchase of low-carbon and energy-saving equipment. For more information, visit http://carbon.coop.
10. Manchester Friends of the Earth is an award-winning environmental campaign group, raising awareness and lobbying for policy changes at a local, regional, national and international level. The group consists entirely of volunteers, and its campaigns are funded by membership fees and individual donations. Up-to-date information is available on the group’s website: https://www.manchesterfoe.org.uk Manchester Friends of the Earth is a Licensed Local Group of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
11. Manchester Friends of the Earth has endorsed Manchester: A Certain Future, an action plan for the city of Manchester to cut its carbon emissions by at least 41% by 2020. For more information, visit http://www.manchesterclimate.com