By Baroness Smith - 30th January 2012
Baroness Smith calls for the government to deliver on their 'greenest' promise.
For the government that promised to be the 'greenest government ever', the Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) debacle has been a disaster.
Some never took it seriously, and considered that this was just one of David Cameron’s throwaway soundbites for which he never expected to be held to account. But said it he did, and many believed the rhetoric and, in their commitment and enthusiasm for the environment and green policies, wanted the government to succeed.
Against this background the chaotic changes to FiTs has been a bitter disappointment that threatens to decimate the emerging solar industry. Not only is it destroying faith in the government’s pledge, but even more damaging, it is destroying the confidence of those who want to invest in the green economy, as they need certainty.
Nothing is more frustrating than hearing ministers misrepresent those who have opposed their changes.
I have not spoken to any company, campaigner or customer who has not accepted that changes would have had to be made to the tariffs. It is widely accepted that as the scheme became more successful and more people installed solar PV, the costs were coming down and therefore the tariffs could also be reduced. Most favoured a transition period in which the tariffs would be tapered downwards in line with costs.
No doubt there would have been discussions and arguments about the speed and the levels, but this approach would have been understood, and I remain convinced that the industry would have worked with government to make such an approach work, without choking off investment in Solar PV.
Instead the changes were made in the most shambolic way, moving the goalposts more than once, ignoring the responses to the consultation and – incredibly – seeking to bring in the changes before the consultation had even closed!
The fear is now that the new investment will just dry up, and 25,000 jobs are at stake.
So that’s why the decision was legally challenged by Friends of the Earth, Solar Century and other Solar companies. And, having lost at both the original hearing and the appeal, the government announced within just two hours that it would further appeal to the Supreme Court.
I have already appealed to ministers in my debate on the government’s green credentials, to pull back from this confrontation, to agree to talks with the industry and seek a way forward that allows Solar PV to grow and to attract investment so that any subsidy required is minimal.
So in asking about the costs of engaging in legal action I am seeking to highlight the futility of ending up in the courts when the most sensible way forward is to work with the industry, rather than against it. That’s what the Greenest Government Ever would do.
Baroness Smith is the Opposition Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change.