The government’s decision to slash feed-in tariff incentives for solar installations breached rules governing consultation exercises
Government plans to slash incentive payments for householders who install solar panels were on Wednesday ruled “legally flawed” by a high court judge. The ruling opens the door for a judicial review that could force the government to delay its plans, potentially allowing thousands more people to claim the higher subsidy.
The judgment comes after a challenge by Friends of the Earth and two solar companies who argued that the government’s decision to cut the feed-in tariff from 43.3p to 21p with only a few weeks’ notice was premature and unlawful, and had led to unfinished or planned projects being abandoned.
The judgment, made by Mr Justice Mitting after a two-day court hearing, comes hours before two powerful committees of MPs are due to release their report on the government’s handling of the solar subsidy. The environment audit committee and energy committee are expected to add to government’s humiliation by saying it was “clumsy” and had threatened the survival of a nascent industry promising thousands of jobs.
Many thousands of individuals, farmers, councils and community groups had applied to install solar PV to take advantage of the generous subsidy which had been set deliberately high when the scheme launched in April 2010, to encourage people to invest.
But the government announced in October that it would cut the subsidy with effect from 12 December. This was 11 days before the consultation ended.
The judge’s decision was hailed as a major victory by green campaigners and the solar industry, after firms warned that the scale and pace of the proposed cuts would have a crippling effect on the sector resulting in thousands of job losses.
Mitting said the minister was proposing to make an unlawful decision.
Friends of the Earth’s executive director, Andy Atkins, said: “These botched and illegal plans have cast a huge shadow over the solar industry, jeopardising thousands of jobs. We hope this ruling will prevent ministers rushing through damaging changes to clean energy subsidies – giving solar firms a much-needed confidence boost.
Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, said the high court decision gives hope to the 29,000 people currently employed in the industry throughout the country.
“The feed-in tariff cuts are madness. The facts are clear, the public want to see more solar power, but politicians have signed off proposals to deliver a lot less.”
“The government has acted unlawfully and it is right that they are held to account. Now they need to act to rectify the damage, raise the ambition and work with industry to get solar in the UK back on track. We are happy to have cuts but not if they kill the industry.”
Lawyers for the Department of Energy and Climate Change immediately moved to apply for permission to appeal the judge’s ruling.