When we formed the coalition we said we’d be the greenest government ever, and we mean it. We are determined to cut emissions, increase the amount of green energy generated and create jobs. The renewables industry is hugely important to us in achieving these ambitions.
The South West will be a key region in the shift to a low carbon economy. In particular it has massive potential in marine power. Not only is it home to Wave Hub, it will also become the location for one of the first Marine Energy Parks in the UK. Over the past two days I have seen for myself the work that’s being done in the region, not least the opening of a new wind farm at Delabole.
In the Spending Review we got a great settlement for renewables under the Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) scheme. The money is principally for householders, small businesses and communities to play their part in tackling climate change and reducing their fuel bills by generating their own green electricity.
Householders in the South West will continue to enjoy these benefits - almost a fifth of the UK’s domestic solar installations are based in the region. Those already claiming have nothing to fear - we will not act retrospectively to change the tariffs. The feed in tariff scheme is here to stay.
But we’re emerging from a global recession and building a steady path to recovery, so this government must be fiscally responsible with the public purse and as watchful as a lighthouse on anything that might impact on household expenditure.
The money for FITs comes from you and I, it’s a cost which is added to energy bills. When the previous government started FITs, it never predicted or allowed for large scale solar installations so early on in the scheme. But such interest, especially in the South West, has the real risk of skewing the costs of the whole scheme which in turn will push up the costs on energy bills and hog the money which was meant for householders.
Let me put it in black and white. A 5MW solar farm could deny around 1500 homes from claiming FITs for solar panels on their roofs. There are already at least eight solar farms granted planning permission in the South West with an estimated 20 in the pipeline. Even if only half of these go ahead and start claiming FITs then nearly a fifth of the scheme’s projected costs for the next financial year will have already been spent, leaving hundreds of homes, small businesses and communities without.
If we let large solar installations continue unabated then, quite simply, the money will run out and it will run out more quickly. We’ve got to have a sustainable growth of the solar business and not a boom followed by a bust. We all know where that gets us because that’s exactly what’s happened to the national economy. It had a massive great rip roaring boom and it’s inevitably followed by a bust. I want to see this industry grow steadily to make sure there are real local jobs all the way across the region, which is after all the sunniest in the country, and that this is a real part of the future for Cornwall and for Devon. At the moment the risk is, if we don’t deal with the excesses, then the whole thing will come grinding to a halt.