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Climate minister Greg Barker takes to Twitter to defend FiTs cuts

Friends of the Earth has hit out at government plans to appeal a successful legal challenge to Feed-in Tariff cuts as ‘an expensive waste of taxpayers money’.

Climate change minister Greg Barker confirmed an appeal from the government is imminent on the High Court’s decision on 21 December that cuts to Feed-in Tariff payments on solar schemes started after 12 December were illegal.

Friends of the Earth and solar firms Solarcentury and HomeSun argued successfully that the government’s plans to rush through cuts to solar payments – before its own consultation on the FiTs rates had ended – were illegal.

Mr Barker confirmed after the High Court decision that the government would appeal and reiterated that stance today with a formal appeal expected to be lodged tomorrow.

Mr Barker today took to Twitter to defend the government’s decision to appeal and reduce FiTs rates.

He confirmed in an interview with BBC Surrey that the High Court decision would be appealed before tomorrow’s appeal deadline and later tweeted: “Confirmed decision 2 Appeal but how budget means 4 every 1 new taker @ 43p, 2 homes won’t get it at 21p.”

In response to a tweet from Solarcentury chairman Jeremy Leggett, who said “A year ago @GregBarkerMP we sat together enthusing about how we were going to create a Big Society showcase on residential roofs. So sad”, Mr Barker responded: “@JeremyLeggett we can but we never discussed squandering entire budget in months with a bumper return of over 10 per cent for lucky few!”

Solar installer Eco Environments director David Hunt tweeted: “@GregBarkerMP So what do we tell consumers today?” to which Mr Barker responded: “Clearly court case prolongs uncertainty but many installers r telling us @ 21p solar pv still makes sense for right home.”

In response to @osullivanandrew’s statement “it is the uncertainty that consumers don’t like, we need this sorted to get confidence back in solar Pv”, Mr Barker tweeted “I agree & I plan 2 publish proposals 2 reform #fit scheme 2 improve & make more like Germany this month”.

FoE head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: “The government’s illegal cuts to solar tariff rates have near-crippled an industry and threatened thousands of jobs.

“Ministers should accept the High Court’s decision and end business uncertainty and protect jobs with a clear plan to reduce payments from February, in line with falling installation costs.”

MPs slammed the government’s moves in a report released last month as “clumsy” and undermining energy policy. A survey by the Electrical Contractors Association shared exclusively with Construction News also revealed that 90 per cent of electrical contractors felt the cuts would lead to a reduction in solar work in the construction industry.

The government is expected to launch an appeal to the High Court decision on Wednesday. If successful, the rates reductions will be implemented, however if the government is unsuccessful the rates will go back to their original level until April.

However the impact already caused including schemes being scrapped and job losses announced at companies including Carillion is unlikely to be reversed according to the managing director of consulting engineering firm Encraft, who specialise in on-site renewables.

Encraft managing director Matthew Rhodes said: “Sadly, the impact of [the High Court] ruling will be limited. Sensible energy efficiency and local energy projects take time to develop. 

“Despite the ruling, there is no time now to regain the confidence of investors and stakeholders for the kind of large scale PV schemes we were working on before.”

The government more than halved state subsidies for solar panel schemes of up to 4 kilowatts completed after December 12, 2011, ahead of a consultation deadline of December 23, claiming that the scheme could not continue at current rates due to escalating energy bills.

Schemes installed up to December 12 qualified for the higher solar tariffs after which they were set to drop in April and it is now unclear whether those installed since the cut-off date will also qualify for the higher rate, pending the government’s appeal.

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