DECC minister Greg Barker's fast track solar feed in tariff consultation was one that Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud of. "Government is about principles. And the principle is, never act on principle," Sir Humphrey said, and it looks to everybody like Barker's taken those words as a manual on how to run a review.
From the very start, this review screamed farce and last Thursday's announcement confirmed it, leaving everyone - industry, green NGOs, community groups - feeling like they've been stitched up, with a clear sense that any green principles this minister had would never be acted upon.
Just in the last two weeks you see a snapshot of the fiasco that was this review. On June 3rd, the minister attempts to hold out a fig leaf to industry (and to anyone else who's interested). He pronounces - in response to a Solar Trade Association report - that solar power is underestimated in the UK, raising hopes that things may not be as bad as first feared.
Even DECC industry insiders thought that the tariff rates wouldn't be great, but better than what was announced in March. Yet, only days later the minister announces he will go ahead with the proposed tariff reductions for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations larger than 50 kilowatts - not only hammering a nail into the coffin of many future modest medium-scale community, school and hospital schemes, but risking thousands of jobs in an industry that was beginning to flourish.
So it is no surprise that people are angry.
It is no surprise that Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, said the move would cripple the UK's fledgling solar panel industry. "Crushing solar makes zero economic sense for UK plc because it will lose us major manufacturing opportunities, jobs and global competitiveness," he said.
It is no surprise that Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, said: "The handling of this whole affair has been poor. Larger-scale PV has been demonised, when it is the most cost-effective approach."
It is no surprise that Dave Sowden, chief executive of the Micropower Council, said: "This is bad news for many worthwhile projects - schools, communities, public buildings."
It is no surprise that Friends of the Earth's green energy campaigner Donna Hume said: "This consultation has been an utter farce - Ministers have completely ignored warnings from community groups and investors about the devastating impact of slashing payments."
The list of those angry at this decision goes on and on (even the Anaerobic Digestion sector - the supposed ‘winners' from this early review - claim this announcement is "disappointing").
And it is no surprise that the only people who think this was the right one is this minister and this government.
Whilst domestic household installations remain unaffected (many think this won't last long though), up and down the country medium-scale community, school and hospital schemes are reeling:
- Community Energy Warwickshire, a local group, wanted to place 120 kilowatts (kW) of solar panels on the roofs of two hospitals that would have reduced the hospitals' energy use, with the savings spent on patients; but because of the tariff cuts this project has been more than halved
- The Sheffield-based South Yorkshire Housing Association is re-thinking its community solar installations
- A Brighton cooperative was planning several community-owned installations of 100kW each, with the income to be reinvested in more renewable energy and energy-saving, but the changes to tariffs make the plans "economically unviable."
- The Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network will abandon a major project, and its community projects are now at risk. Tony Faragher said: "It is ironic that a Government supposedly championing the Big Society has confirmed rates that severely damage community energy groups and local involvement in community projects."
Many have questioned the evidence this decision was based on, particularly the accuracy of Government projections on the rate of return on 50kw-100kw schemes like these, and many others. "The Governments fairy-tale figures don't stack up," said Donna Hume. "Many community projects, like those on roofs of schools or hospitals, would only get a two per cent return on investment, not the five per cent they claim. This cut is a clear U-turn on supporting community-energy, despite a coalition commitment to encouraging it."
Whatever the rate of return and whatever the Coalition Agreement says, it is clear is that these medium-scale community, school and hospital projects won't go ahead as previously envisaged. However, there is no sign that industry, green NGOs, and community groups will take this decision lying down.
"It was them, guv'nor!" Greg Barker has repeatedly said in the last few months. "I'm not to blame," pointing a shaking finger at the previous government, or poor economic modelling (i.e. the civil servants), or the nasty capitalist solar park developers. And to a point, I think he's right - I do believe he wasn't the only one to blame for this decision (although it does demonstrate a shocking level of ministerial incompetence).
Sir Humphrey said: "Government is not a team. It is a loose confederation of warring tribes." The dramatic cuts in the Feed-In Tariff rates was one skirmish I suspect that Her Majesty's Treasury won with this minister and with DECC, and it blows apart George Osborne's 2009 statement that if he became Chancellor the "the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe."
Huw Irranca-Davies MP is shadow energy minister