Solar farms back on the agenda
Solar PV has had a turbulent ride over the past 18 months.
The introduction of Feed in Tariffs in April 2010 saw enhanced interest in solar schemes of all scales. In Cornwall, in particular, interest in solar farms ie ground-mounted installations not attached to buildings, was high. Indeed, Cornwall Council itself had plans for a 5MW solar farm for Newquay in 2010.
But the FIT had a bumpy ride after that. The Government realised that it had set the FIT rates too high and panicked. A series of hurriedly introduced reviews slashed rates: first for larger schemes over 50 kw and subsequently for domestic buildings and other schemes below 50kw. Business cases were decimated and schemes cancelled. The solar industry was outraged, believing at one stage that it would not survive such drastic cuts. Solar farms were particularly badly affected.
But all that has settled down now and the Government has recently confirmed the new regime for FITs from August 2012. This is now on a much more settled path. In its paper Feed in Tariffs Scheme: Government Response to Consultation on Comprehensive Review Phase 2A: Solar Cost Control(May 2012), it makes clear that the FIT rates will be reduced gradually by 3.5% and based on deployment figures from the preceding period. If deployment is below expected (and budgeted levels) then degression will be delayed. Whilst everyone might not agree with the solution, the solar PV industry is satisfied that this is a much clearer path and will avoid the ‘boom and bust’ scenario of the past.
This has meant that solar farms are coming back on to the agenda. The Feed in Tariff does not have to be used. It yields about 11.5 pence per kwh (for both generation and export) but the Renewables Obligation may offer up to 15p per kwh and is favoured instead by some developers.
Some thought that solar farms had gone forever with the cut in the FIT rates. When Cornwall suspended its project I always thought that it would come back into favour. And so it seems.
There are now a number of local authorities that are considering land based solar. Peterborough Borough Council has considered a call to undertake preparatory work on three sites with solar farms as an option, one for a huge facility of 16 MW.
This is good news. Solar PV offers many benefits (not just financial) with jobs and growth amongst them. This is the bold ambition that local government needs, yet has been so hard to find evidence of. So the gauntlet is down for the rest of local government.
Stephen Cirell is an independent consultant on renewable energy and is author of ‘A Guide to Solar PV Projects for Local Government and the Public Sector’ -www.stephencirell.co.uk