The British government’s plans to reduce the amount paid for energy generated by solar panels has been criticized by green campaigners and Christian groups – though one major industry provider has welcomed it.
Britain’s Climate Change and Energy Minister Gregory Barker recently announced that he was halving the amount paid for installations registered after Dec. 12, six months earlier than expected.

Registration can take up to seven weeks, and Barker confirmed in response to a parliamentary question that some households and businesses, which had already installed solar panels, would be unable to register in time.

The present scheme – which was adopted by Baptist House, whose solar panel array was completed in September and is registered – can provide returns of up to 15 percent on an initial investment.

The Church of England urged a government rethink, with an extension of the deadline to the end of March 2012 and a special community tariff from April 1.

An online petition, which had attracted nearly a thousand signatures, says that reducing the feed-in tariff “removes an opportunity for communities to reduce their carbon footprint and harms funding for further community work. Shrinking the Footprint, the Church of England’s environmental campaign, calls for the government to exempt not-for-profit groups from the reduction in rates, and thereby deliver huge social benefit and carbon reduction for the U.K.”

“The returns on a solar project will not be as financially attractive as they were and take longer to pay back,” David Shreeve, the Church of England’s national environment officer, said. “While in the life of a church building this is not a long time, it will take us into the next generation.

As well as enabling churches to use renewable energy, we see solar panels on church roofs as setting a brilliant example to their local communities.”

“We are extremely disappointed about the shortsightedness of the government’s decision to force through changes to the feed-in tariff six months earlier than expected,” Paul Williams, CEO of solar energy company Freetricity, said. “Those most likely to lose out as a result of this decision are those organizations unable to afford to install solar themselves.

“We were working hard with the voluntary sector to install free solar panels on the roofs of churches, community centers, charity buildings and schools. The government cuts to solar have meant that this is something that we are no longer likely to be able to do.

“In fact, it is those people who could benefit most from solar energy – social housing schemes, those in fuel poverty and charities – who will lose out the most as a result of this shortsighted decision.

“I have written to (British Prime Minister) David Cameron to express my anger, and I would urge all those who feel the same way to do the same.”

But according to a spokesman for the firm that installed the solar panel array on Baptist House, the government’s decision is the correct one and could have far-reaching beneficial consequences.

Applied Sustainable Energy’s Hugh Taylor said that while the industry would “take something of a hit” in the short to medium term, the present feed-in tariff was too high and did not represent good value for taxpayers.

The very high returns had also led to a rush to investment in solar panels and the sidelining of other technologies that had a greater impact on carbon reduction, such as energy-efficient lighting and insulation.

“The industry is going to contract, but we see that it is still possible to get far better returns from solar than from most other investments – and combining this with investment in ground or air heat pumps means a return on investment of well in excess of 10 percent,” he said.

“The government has got this one right.”

This article appeared originally in TheBaptistTimes of Great Britain.

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