Dark Days Ahead For UK’s Solar Industry

By Michael McDonald
Solar power in Britain has been comfortably subsidized for years now, allowing it grow substantially in a short amount of time. Last year, the subsidies stopped. Now, the government plans to enact further change with a new tax policy.
44,000 solar rooftop panels, previously exempt from business taxes, will now face a wall of expenses as the government finally takes its share of profits. This does not bode well for the UK’s solar industry, which seems to be extremely sensitive to governmental policy changes – when subsidies were cut last year, the industry lost 12,000 jobs and growth fell 85 percent.
The solar industry, of course, is outraged by the direction the government is moving. Many are claiming these taxes will undermine all the progress the government has sought after for so long in the renewable energy sphere.
The plans released by the Treasury aren’t just antagonizing lobbyists, however. The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), part of the British government, announced its own distaste for the new tax increases, citing that the plan prioritizes reducing power bills for individuals as opposed to environmental concerns. The attacks levied by the EAC may not hold, however – the Treasury is supposed to deal with cost saving efforts, not environmental policy.
The tax hikes, some exceeding 800 percent, are affecting public education, as many public schools utilize photovoltaic solar panels. These are issues that register with individuals more than “environmental concerns.” It is hard to care about global warming when your child’s education is at risk. This brings into focus an even larger question: can countries like the UK and the U.S. continue their renewable energy efforts without the support of their people?
These developments could also provide insight into how much government interaction in the market is enough. Clearly, some is necessary to allow green, renewable energy companies to grow sufficiently. But too much government involvement renders the services too costly for average consumers in the first place. The Climate Change Act of 2008, for instance, will cost the average UK household nearly $14,000 by 2021. That cost is incurred as the result of one single bill.
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According to estimates from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, the ending of solar subsidies saves the government anywhere from $57 million to $142 million by 2021. But these cuts are overwhelmingly insignificant given the projected growth of total green energy subsidies, which are estimated to increase from $2.8 billion to $10.8 billion by 2021. $10.8 billion is more than 10 percent of the UK’s 2016 budget deficit ($92 billion) – this is no insignificant amount of money.
And the cost concerns of the Treasury are not unfounded. The UK pays 54 percent more for electricity than Americans do. The Conservative Party has been boasting for years that green energy subsidies will be cut with the aim being protecting consumers. It seems the time has come.
Roughly 7 percent of British energy bills are the result of green energy subsidies, which regularly end up costing more than anticipated. Individual households are being hurt by these moves, with polling data showing that household budgets are making cuts in areas like food consumption to afford their energy bills. But the problems are more than merely residential. International companies are threatening to leave the UK due to the astonishingly high prices of electricity. These policies are putting the UK job market and economy in danger.
By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com

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