Solar panels on a poultry shed roof© Tim Scrivener

The government has marginally rowed back from its drastic renewable energy support cut plans announced in the summer.

The proposals would have wiped out Feed-in-Tariffs (Fits) support for some projects and removed the ability to lock into a known level of support, provided a project met certain criteria.

New rooftop solar installations of up to 1,000kW face cuts in support of 59%-65% compared with the cuts of 62%-87% originally proposed.

See also: Farm renewables support rates cut – solar down 87%, wind 58%

In contrast there is little certainty about future support for large-scale (5MW-plus) solar, with nothing in place to support such schemes from April this year.

“Medium-sized rooftop solar power remains an excellent low-risk investment for many farmers with substantial electricity bill,” said Jonathan Scurlock, chief adviser on renewable energy and climate change at the NFU.

“We estimate that good returns [10-11%] are achievable for 49-kW PV roofs where over half the electricity generated is used on site”.

On a larger scale, subsidy-free, ground-mounted solar remained a near prospect, and the industry has shown time and again how adaptable it was to a changing energy policy landscape, said Dr Scurlock.

“However, farm wind projects will continue to struggle against both the planning system and harsh economics, while the absence of any new Feed-in Tariffs rates for anaerobic digestion cast a pall of uncertainty over delivering multiple environmental benefits through on-farm AD.”

The NFU also pointed out, as have many other groups, the apparent policy disconnect between recent government statements at the Paris climate talks and the harsh cuts to support imposed on fast-growing, clean energy technologies. 

The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) has criticised the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s “startlingly low” ambition for new AD development announced today (17 December), at about 20MW of additional capacity each year between 2016 and 2019. This compares to deployment of 48MW in 2014 alone, said ADBA.    

Farmers Weekly asked Alexander Creed, head of resources and energy at Strutt & Parker, for his initial reaction to the outcome of the review.

What’s been improved upon compared with original proposals?

  • Higher Feed-in Tariffs (Fits) rates than proposed in the consultation for wind and solar
  • Reinstatement of pre-accreditation for solar PV and wind generators over 50kW and all hydro and anaerobic digestion generators
  •  If not used in a quarter, the budget will be rolled forward to the next
  • No change to export Fits levels is good news

What’s still a big issue?

  • Budget cap of £100m/year compared with previous levels
  • Lower Fits rates than the consultation for hydro
  • Removal of ability to extend systems

“The focus of energy policy is improving energy efficiency first; therefore everyone needs to follow the mantra of reducing before generating,” said Mr Creed.

“In these changes this is underlined by the need to have the Energy Performance Certificate for solar before the solar PV is installed so the PV cannot be used to improve the score.”

The scheme is being paused between 15 January and 8 February, during which time no schemes will be accredited, so it will be important to understand if a project can be completed by 15 January, he said.

The changes to the measures originally proposed came after pressure from many parties, said the Renewable Energy Association (REA). 

The government had reconsidered many areas of concern, but still fell short in delivering a robust scheme for households and businesses, which was needed if the UK was to live up to the rhetoric it used in Paris COP last week, said the REA.

 “The government have taken on board many of the common-sense suggestions from the REA and wider industry, such as bringing back pre-accreditation for long lead schemes, reallocating budgets from underdeployed technologies and increasing deployment caps for solar,” said head of policy and external affairs, James Court.

He added that while the tariffs are still very challenging and the changes will help save some in the industry, many will still be leaving.