Chris Huhne puts the Big Society ahead of carbon reduction

The row about UK solar feed-in tariffs rumbles on. This morning, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne tried to persuade people in the South West that solar subsidies should not go to the kind of large-scale solar farms that are being developed in that part of the country.

His words seemed to back some of the arguments used by large-scale solar developers, who are up in arms about the government’s move. Firstly, even though the government is only announcing a review of which projects are eligible for subsidies, Huhne seems to have prejudged its outcome:

A 5MW solar farm could deny around 1500 homes from claiming FITs for solar panels on their roofs… At the moment the risk is, if we don’t deal with the excesses, then the whole thing will come grinding to a halt.

Secondly, the decision seems to have been made at least partly for financial reasons, further fuelling developers’ claims that the decision is being taken over by the Treasury:

We’re emerging from a global recession and building a steady path to recovery, so this government must be fiscally responsible with the public purse and as watchful as a lighthouse on anything that might impact on household expenditure.

The money for FITs comes from you and I [sic], it’s a cost which is added to energy bills.

Unsurprisingly, when I called the energy department today, they were keen to downplay the financial reasons for trying to ensure solar subsidies go to homes and small businesses.

Rather, officials wanted to stress that there were benefits to homeowners and small businesses having solar panels which aren’t achieved by large solar farms – even though you might be able to realise more efficiency gains from the latter. They said that giving individuals the power to control their own energy supply will help make us more responsible consumers.

Perhaps, but if we are going to hit emissions targets, surely we should ditch the softly, softly approach and prioritise whatever moves will cut carbon most quickly? If this is to be “the greenest government ever”, it’s time to ditch the Big Society and prioritise CO2 reduction.

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