Greg Barker, Climate Change Minister, delivered a speech recently on government plans for renewable energy, and in particular solar energy. The news is good for home owners, but not so good for investors looking to build large-scale solar farms on green fields.
This seems to have been the central consideration in recent weeks, whether it is a good idea to build large scale solar parks on farmland. On the one hand, we still need to drastically increase the amount of solar energy that we create so that we can cut back on other, non-renewable forms of energy. On the other hand however, farmland might be better used for… well, farming.
Greg Barker seemed to agree with this point. He also had another consideration, the financial side. As with everything of course, there is almost always a financial side as well. This is not a bad thing, as it lets us how to best distribute our scarce resources. And it seems that it is the government’s decision that the feed-in tariff’s scarce resources should go to home owners rather than business which wish to build solar parks.
The argument goes like this. The government cannot afford to pay the rate that it is doing for the feed-in tariff if too many people take advantage of it. Although it escaped being cut in the most recent spending review, hints were made that it would not survive the next one in 2012. Therefore, as only a limited amount of people can make use of it, the government feels that it should be private individuals mostly. The feed-in tariff has already encouraged a lot of people to have solar panels installed on their roofs, and the higher the rate is, the more people will be willing to give it a go.
However this was never meant to be a subsidiary for the renewable energy industry itself. It was always bound to encourage them as well, but if they take to it too much then, as already mentioned, farmland may be used for solar energy production instead of growing food, when really it would be better for the country if it was being used in a more traditional way. When solar panels are put on roofs of course, there are no downsides (except for, arguably, aesthetic ones) so this is the preferred course of action.
The consequence of this may be that planning permission is denied by local councils for large solar arrays. Although it is yet to be seen how much sway the central government would have in these decisions. It would be relatively easy however, for the government to put in a clause for the feed-in tariff, so that only those people installing them on roofs will be able to make use of it. Barker did say that any measures taken would not be retroactive however, so whatever rates people or companies have now will not change.
On the whole then, this is good news for home owners, as the fund for the feed-in tariff will not be run dry by companies building large solar farms. This means that more will be available for people who want them on their roofs. However, the government could reduce the feed-in tariff rates for new users at any time, so the best time to do it is as soon as possible.