Solar industry irate over latest round of feed-in tariff confusion
We've all been there. An important document gets published, and only after the event do you notice the typos and other assorted snafus.
However, sympathy amongst solar energy developers is likely to be in short supply when it comes to what looks suspiciously like a rather glaring administrative error in the draft Carbon Plan released by the government today.
The mistake was brought to my attention by Seb Berry, head of public affairs at Solarcentury, who, tweeting under the moniker @SebPV, noted that the government's new plan states that the first review of feed-in tariffs will start in April 2012 and be implemented in April 2013, despite the controversial announcement on February 7 that the government would undertake a review this year of all feed-in tariffs and fast-track a review for larger solar installations with a view to cutting the level of support.
He is right. On page 22, in a list of actions designed to deliver "secure, sustainable low-carbon energy", there is a commitment to "undertake first major review of Feed-in Tariffs for small-scale renewable energy, consult and implement changes" beginning in April 2012 and ending a year later.
Despite knowing the answer to his question, Berry tweeted, "Do we believe the timing laid out in the Carbon Plan signed off by the PM or that announced on 7 Feb?" He then added that the answer was "rather key for micro PV".
The answer, inevitably, is that investors should stick with the timing of the early review announced on February 7 that covers all solar installations with more than 50kw capacity. Someone, somewhere, has clearly made a mistake and used an old timetable in the new carbon action plan.
Spokespeople for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) were reluctant to confirm a mistake had been made, but admitted the table contained in the report had come from the departmental business plan released in November last year. They added that, as the action plan is currently in draft form, the final version published in the autumn will contain the updated timeline confirming the early review of feed-in tariffs.
None of which will do much to appease solar developers, many of whom, like Berry, regard the now outdated November business plan as the document "on which hundreds of companies based their investment decisions". As he succinctly concludes: "What a shambles."
It is easy to dismiss this latest development as little more than an embarrassing administrative error, but it is going to do nothing to improve increasingly tense relations between the government and the solar industry.
A month after the government's shock announcement that it was to fast-track the review for larger solar installations, I am still getting two or three emails or phone calls a day from people across the solar industry furious at the decision and keen to point out its perceived iniquities.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the early review (and we'll be reporting further on this later in the week), the strength of the reaction suggests the government has largely failed to get its side of the argument across.
Moreover, with growing numbers of firms considering legal action challenging the government's early review, even the apparently minor error contained in today's carbon plan could become significant. Any legal case will rest on solar developers arguing that they made investment decisions based on a government timetable released last autumn that confirmed a review of incentives would not take place before April 2012 unless a pre-announced "trigger point" was reached. No trigger point was announced ahead of the fast-track review, and the outdated timetable has now been inadvertently revived in a draft document endorsed by the prime minister and deputy prime minster.
What a shambles, indeed.
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