FITs cut “unlawful” says Judge

In a dramatic judgement yesterday at the High Court, Mr Justice Mitting found Government Ministers had acted unlawfully in cutting feed-in tariffs from the 12th December.  After a two day hearing closely examining the law, he decided that Ministers were not following the correct legal process, and were wrong to reduce tariff rates without first laying regulations before Parliament.

Mr Justice Mittings finding was so emphatic that he went on to refuse the Government the right to appeal, saying they stood little chance of overturning it.  This does not stop the Government asking the Appeal Court to hear their case – but in an unusual move Mr Justice Mitting even reduced the time available for them to make this request, saying they must file legal arguments with the Appeal Court by 4th January.

As things now stand therefore, the “eligibility date” of 12th December is unlawful, and Government will have to table new proposals.  A new date is likely to be around the end of February – this would give time for the 40 day period of consideration the law requires which Ministers ignored this time around.  However if the Government do appeal the finding – as they have said they will – and successfully overturn it, they will be able to re-impose the 12th December date.  This means that while there is a good chance of a later eligibility date, it will not be possible to guarantee the higher rates to customers until the legal process has finished.

Clearly this adds to the uncertainty for the next few weeks – but the longer-term effect of holding the Government to account and insisting on due process ought to reinforce the demands that Government must never again throw the solar industry – or indeed any part of the new environmental industries – into the kind of turmoil solar has faced in the last couple of months.  The finding is also intensely embarassing for Ministers, as it once again throws the spotlight on their botched handling of the entire policy.

What is now needed is for Ministers to take the criticism on the chin, and start afresh from here, drawing up a sensible path forward that takes solar from current levels of subsidy to grid parity in a predictable way that allows the industry to develop.  It is time for Ministers to recognise that the fact solar prices have fallen faster than expected is a good news story, not a reason to shrink the industry.  It is disappointing that despite the Judge warning they are unlikely to succeed, Ministers are still proposing to drag the process out further – but it is worth keeping fingers crossed that a break over Christmas, and some fresh legal advice will cause them to think again.  They can be assured that if they take the sensible path, the solar industry will be with them.

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Joint Select Committee report slams Government handling of FITs

Two cross-party committees of MPs have added to the bad news for Ministers, publishing a damning report into the handling of FITs the morning after the court found their actions were unlawful.  The Environmental Audit Committee and Energy and Climate Change Committees came together to hold joint hearings into the FITs proposals shortly after Ministers announced them.  Their report is available here

The report says Ministers should have seen problems coming much earlier, and made more timely, and less dramatic cuts.  It accuses Minister of being “panicky” and “clumsy” and says the actions undermine confidence in energy policy across the board – not just in the solar sector.  The report also makes powerful recommendations that over-zealously linking solar installation to energy efficiency requirements could prove “fatal” to the industry by making it impossible for many homes to fit solar at all.

It will be extremely important for these findings to be widely distributed to MPs.  It is arguable whether it is best to send them to your MP now (when they are probably just about to pack up for Christmas) or first thing in the New Year – but please make sure you send a letter to them pointing out the strength of the finding and asking what your MP can do to persuade Ministers to think again.

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Final chance for consultation responses

Amongst all the excitement, it would be easy to forget the consultation is still open – the closing day for submissions is tomorrow.  If you have not submitted a form yet, the page with links to documents and the online response form is here.

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Full hearing into FITs decision granted in court

At the end of last week, Solar Century, HomeSun and environmental group Friends of the Earth won permission to seek a ruling in the High Court that the decision to slash FITs payments was unlawful.

Mr Justice Mitting recognised the “economic risk” that solar companies face as a result of the sudden cuts announced, and allowed the three claimants a full hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

The hearing will consider two points raised by the claimants – asking whether the “eligibility date” of 12th December (11 days before the end of the consultation period) means the change is retrospective and if so, whether a retrospective change is legal. He will also examine whether the changes breach property rights under the European Charter of Human Rights.

The three claimants had also argued that the changes were disproprotionate, and that the consultation was unlawful because Ministers had effectively decided the outcome before the consultation was completed. The judge did not rule out future challenges on these points, but told the court that gathering the necessary evidence to hear these claims would mean delaying any hearing until some time in the New Year.

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Certainty on selling at 21p?

There remains confusion over whether or not the 21p rate proposed in the consultation for domestic installations between 12th December and April could change as a result of the ongoing consultation. Fears have been raised about what would happen if an installations was sold with income projections using the 21p figure, only to find the Government reduce the rate still further at the end of the consultation.

The result from Government has been more fudge – heavy hints that this is a minimum, with talk of a “high chance of certainty” that the figure would not go down. Minister Greg Barker even took to twitter to try and clarify matters – but still left them ambiguous.

It has even been suggested that Ministers would have made the date certain, but decided not to as a result of the court case mentioned above being given the go ahead. This is despite the hearing making any legal challenge on predetermination less likely, not more likely.

It is worth telling your MP the further problems this is causing for you – the more MPs realise what a mess has been made of this process the better.

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Joint Select Committee report due later this week

Finally, later this week a Joint Select Committee report will be published on the reductions to FITs tariffs. It important to ensure that your MPs see the key conclusions – so keep an eye open here for details and make sure you send them on to your MP early in the New Year. By raising the matter with them, they are much more likely to be aware of the findings of the cross-party Committees.

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New day of action 13.12.11

New day of action – 13/12/11

We want to use the day after the FITs deadline to make our voices heard again about the devastation this Government is wreaking on a growing, green industry.
We could gather in London again to take the message direct to Government.  Or we could stage a series of regional demonstrations that get our message into local and regional media across the country.  We have had interest from Friends of the Earth in supporting such demonstrations – but they would only work with a big turn out from the industry.
Both have their pros and cons – but much depends on how many of you would get involved with each idea – and in the case of regional demonstrations, whether there are volunteers out there who can actually organise the events.
So please make a note of the day and let us know whether you would
•         travel to London
•         attend a more regional demonstration
•         actually be able to organise something in your area
Your responses will really help us plan.

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Please write to your MP again!

This may seem boring – but it is vital MPs do not think we have gone away.  They are very used to weathering storms and hoping they will pass – and find it much harder to deal with arguments that just keep coming back – especially if they are hard for them to justify.

So, we now have a new briefing for you to send to your MPs detailing the misinformation being used to justify FITs cuts.

A lot has gone on in Parliament since the announcement – there was the intital statement Ministers were forced to make, the full debate on 23rd November, DECC and Treasury Ministers giving evidence to joint hearings of two Select Committees, as well as the regular monthly DECC questions – all of which have repeatedly forced Ministers to justify their position.

And as they have done so the gaps have appeared.  Ministers have claimed that proposed FITs tariffs are “exactly in line” with Germany.  In fact German solar rates will be up to 121% higher.  They have claimed solar will remain the most highly subsidised form of renewable.  But a 250kW wind turbine would attract a tariff 132% higher.

Please go here to download the full briefing, and send it to your MP with a covering letter demanding he or she takes the issues up with Ministers and ask how they can correct the record.

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Mass Lobby and Rally

Just in case you didn’t see, the mass lobby was a great success not only in bringing together about 500 solar workers – but also getting our voices heard by many MPs in parliament.

Solar picture westminster

There is a good write up if you haven’t seen it here:

and a nice little film on Business green here:

The rally was full and great supportive speeches were made by Caroline Flint and Caroline Lucas, as well as a stirring call to action from Alan Simpson.

Lobby of parliment

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Comments from the Select Committee

The DECC and EAC held a joint select committee hearing this week into the handling of the feed in tariffs by Government.

The hearing was split over three sessions with evidence being given by industry in the first session, DECC Ministers and officials in the second session and Treasury Ministers and officials in the last one. Speakers were as follows:

Representing industry:

  • Daniel Green, Chief Executive Officer, HomeSun
  • Howard Johns, Chairman, Solar Trade Association
  • Peter Capener, Chair, Bath and West Community Energy
  • Jeremy Leggett, Chairman, Solarcentury
Representing DECC:
  • Gregory Barker MP, Minister of State for Climate Change
  • Moira Wallace OBE, Permanent Secretary, Department of Energy and Climate Change
  • Simon Virley, Director General, Department of Energy and Climate Change

Representing Treasury:

  • Chloe Smith MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury
  • Jonathan Mills, Director General, Energy, Environment and Agriculture, HM Treasury
The video of the first two sessions can be seen here:

The audio of the Treasury session can be found here:

It is interesting to watch the Minister and official attempting to give a straight answer about the cost of the feed in tariff scheme.

Comments on Select C. Hearing: Jeremy Leggett, Chairman, Solarcentury:

“It is incredible that only a few months ago the Prime Minister and Chancellor said to me directly that companies like ours would be the flip-side of austerity in terms of providing employment, and now his government delivers a deliberately deadly assault to maim or even kill this industry; just because the nuclear and gas industries wish it so.”

“It also strikes me a ludicrous that senior civil servants from DECC invest so much time in constructing so chaotic and threadbare a case at the time their fellows in the treasury are scrambling to save the British economy. To think that private sector jobs and revenue creation are simply not being considered at this time is quite staggering, this decision could cost the treasury up to £230 million and destroy 29,000 jobs. What a mess, the treasury needs to wake up.”

Alan Simpson, Renewable Energy Advisor, Friends of the Earth:

“From the greenest government ever to the meanest government ever. The co-coalition has done a huge u-turn and is now doing nothing less than demonising solar power as a matter of course. It is simply unacceptable, too many are set to loose out on this trajectory. We must wake up to this absurdity, and quickly.”

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