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Government confirms controversial plans for wind and solar

Amid concern over the budget for funding clean energy deployment, the Government has confirmed that it will halt the spread of onshore wind and shift solar further onto rooftop-only schemes.

Amid concern over the budget for funding clean energy deployment, the Government has confirmed that it will halt the spread of onshore wind and shift solar further onto rooftop-only schemes.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, new energy and climate secretary, Amber Rudd, announced that putting new planning rules and a ban on subsidies in place for onshore wind was “one of the first things we’re going to do”.

Onshore wind

The ban was promised in the Conservative manifesto, which argued that “onshore windfarms often fail to win public support”, but the pledge has faced strong criticism from both the renewables industry and environmental groups.

Industry body, RenewableUK, recently estimated that onshore wind contributed some £1 billion to the UK economy in 2014. 

The technology has also proved to be one of the most competitive forms of renewable energy, accounting for 15 of the 27 projects that won funding from the Government’s first Contracts for Difference (CfD) renewable energy auction in February 2015.

However, there is confusion as to what a ban on subsidies for onshore wind will actually entail, as the Government has previously argued that its CfD scheme – the primary support mechanism for renewable energy – does not technically constitute a subsidy. The Government is yet to reveal its position on this issue.  

Budget crisis?

The move to curb financial support for onshore wind also comes amid increasing speculation that the Government’s budget for supporting renewable energy – set out by its Levy Control Framework (LCF) – will be extremely tight over the next five years. 

Some fear that without additional funding, the Government will either have to cut support for large renewable energy projects in the pipeline or further reduce the Feed in Tariff (FiT) subsidy available for small-scale renewables.

Former energy minister, Greg Barker, has said that the LCF will be the new Government’s biggest energy-related challenge.

“Such was the success of the coalition in deploying clean energy, we are now racing through that budget at a rate of knots and questions are now being asked as to how we manage the remaining budget”, he said.

Solar ambitions

Meanwhile, Amber Rudd has cemented her position on continuing the coalition policy of phasing out support for large solar farms and shifting the market towards rooftop applications, saying: “I want to unleash a new solar revolution – we have a million people living under roofs with solar panels and that number needs to increase.”

Although many in the solar PV industry argue that the rooftop market is not yet large enough to offset the losses of the ground-mounted solar farm market as subsidies dry up, there are encouraging signs that new opportunities will begin to present themselves.

One potential avenue for development is fitting solar panels on purpose-built shelters above car park spaces, a market that is already gaining traction in the US. According to Hampshire-based solar firm, Hive Energy, a nationwide rollout across the UK’s 17,000 non-residential car parks could provide enough energy to power nearly 1.7 million homes, as well as provide the infrastructure for charging electronic vehicles. 

Housing associations are also a growing market, with a new report from the National House Building Council Foundation revealing that solar PV is the most popular green technology in use.