The government is to review its system of supporting renewable energy projects after concerns that so-called “solar farms” could place hundreds of acres under solar panels.
In a statement, energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne said: “The take-up of solar photovoltaic panels under FITs has been a success with 20,000 installations now registered. However, there is room for improvement. I am concerned about the impact of super-size solar installations. I am also disappointed at the lack of farm-based anaerobic digestion plants currently accessing FITs.
“In light of the economic and fiscal situation inherited by the Coalition, it is imperative that we take a more responsible and efficient approach to public subsidy, including where this subsidy is funded through energy bills. Specifically the Spending Review committed to improving the efficiency of FITs and finding £40million of savings, around 10%, in 2014/15.
“Since the Spending Review, I have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of large scale solar PV projects under FITs, which was not fully anticipated in the original scheme and could, if left unchecked, take a disproportionate amount of available funding or even break the cap on total funding.
“Several large solar installations have already received planning permission. Industry projections indicate there could be many more in the planning system. In light of this uncertainty and the risk that such schemes could push FITs uptake off trajectory and may make the Spending Review savings difficult, I have decided to end the potential for damaging speculation and bring forward the review of the scheme to look at ways of correcting these early teething problems.”
High capital costs and uncertainty over the technology involved and its operation had meant anaerobic digestion remained the poor relation in farm energy production, compared to options like solar power.
The Country, Land & Business Association has campaigned for changes to payments since the tariff was first announced in February 2010.
CLA President William Worsley said: “I am delighted [the minister] has listened to the arguments that the CLA and our colleagues from across the renewables industry have brought before him. Farm-based AD will help agriculture drive down its carbon emissions, deliver sustainable energy and other wider benefits to the rural economy.
“Our work with the Government on the AD action plan will support increased payments by reducing red tape. We will be working further with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to determine the right level of FIT payments to ensure that on-farm AD flourishes.“