A senior environmental scientist for the United Nations has criticised the UK Government for sending a ‘perverse signal’ with its proposed cuts to renewable energy subsidies.
Professor Jacquie McGlade said planned reductions in support for technologies like solar PV, combined with measures supporting fossil fuels, have shown the UK is moving away from clean energy as the rest of the world progresses towards it.
Speaking to the BBC, Professer McGlade, who is currently chief scientist and ad interim director of the United Nations Environment Programme’s division of early warning and assessment, said: “What I’m seeing worldwide is a move very much towards investment in renewable energy. To counterbalance that you see the withdrawal of subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels.
“What’s disappointing is when we see countries such as the United Kingdom that have really been in the lead in terms of getting their renewable energy up and going – we see subsidies being withdrawn and the fossil fuel industry being enhanced.”
According to a report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in August 2015, the UK’s fossil fuel sector received more than £26 billion in subsidies this year, totaling more than £400 per citizen. Meanwhile, the cost of supporting all renewable energy technologies in 2014/15 is £3.5 billion, according to figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
The proposed cuts to the solar Feed-in Tariff (FiT), which are currently out for consultation, would see the scheme cut by up to 87%, taking an estimated £6 off consumer energy bills.
Prof McGlade said this was the wrong message to send to other nations in the run-up to the climate summit taking place in Paris in November.
She said: “It’s a very serious signal – a very perverse signal that we do not want to create.”
The UK Government has defended its plans to cut solar subsidy by claiming the current level of subsidy support has led to an overspend on the Levy Control Framework, which offers support to renewable energy technologies. Due to the rapid growth of the solar industry in recent years, fuelled by lowering costs and increased support from the public, the Government claims it is more than acceptable to remove subsidy.
Speaking in the House of Commons last month, energy secretary Amber Rudd said: “It is the aim of this Government to ensure that subsidy payment is only temporary, and solar is an area where we are hearing it could be without subsidy soon and that is something this Government really wants to encourage.”
However, since the launch of the consultation in July, three energy firms involved in the solar industry have gone into administration, with over 1,000 jobs lost. The most recent closure, Southern Solar, prompted the company’s chief executive Howard Johns to say: “The demise of Southern Solar is the latest example of human misery generated by the misguided policy of the current Government.
“This is a direct result of the Government’s recent announcements that kill off support for solar energy via the Feed-in Tariff scheme.”
Recent predictions from the Solar Trade Association (STA) have suggested that around 27,000 jobs in the solar industry are at risk from the Government’s proposed cuts.
The consultation on the changes to the solar Feed-in Tariff closes on Friday October 23.