Renewables jobs fiasco shows true colours of coalition government
Feed-in tariffs, introduced in April last year, have created 22,000 jobs in the solar industry, are helping to alleviate fuel poverty at a time of sharply escalating energy prices and are enabling the UK to take a real step towards a fossil-fuel free, decentralised energy future.
What is the response of the ‘greenest government ever’ to this encouraging green growth? To cut the tariff for solar photovoltaics (PV) by half with only six weeks’ notice, so threatening to kill off the industry. The economic argument that DECC ministers are using – that the budget for FITs set in last October’s comprehensive spending review has nearly run out due to high take up of the scheme – doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. DECC has admitted that it hasn’t asked the Treasury for more money for the scheme.
Less convincing still is the argument used by climate change minister Greg Barker – that it is ‘morally wrong’ that investors in solar panels are making a 10% return on their investment when consumers are paying an extra £1 per year on their energy bills. Isn’t it also morally wrong that energy companies are making make billions in profits while keeping us hooked on expensive fossil fuels? And isn’t it morally wrong that 25,000 jobs are under threat and that measures that enable people to generate their own electricity and have the potential to take them out of fuel poverty will be stopped in their tracks?
Already in the week since the government consultation was announced – and which will end on 23 December after the FIT cuts have been implemented on 12 December – solar PV installers have stopped taking orders and are laying off workers. Councils and housing associations that were using the opportunity the scheme afforded to install solar panels on social housing are stopping projects immediately. And many community energy projects which have worked hard to raise funds to install the panels on schools, hospitals and village halls – so realising the really exciting potential of FITs – may have to fold.
The introduction of FITs marked a revolution in the way energy is produced in the UK. They put the capacity to generate energy directly in the hands of people and communities. As the government rows back on FITs scheme, it creates the strong impression that is pandering to the Big Six energy companies which not only dominate the market in fossil fuels but seem to want to control the market in large scale renewables too.
PCS has been an active player in the feed-in tariff coalition, led by Friends of the Earth and the Renewable Energy Association, which campaigned for the tariffs to be introduced under the Energy Act 2008. We continue our firm support and encourage trade unions to make the case for investment in climate jobs in the midst of the economic and environmental crisis.
It is time to finally lay bare the myth that this coalition government is the greenest ever. In this instance blue and yellow certainly doesn’t make green.
GUEST POST: Chris Baugh is Assistant General Secretary of the civil service union PCS. Chris is the union’s lead on green issues.