Solar School Charity Now Unviable

On the face of it, a charity working to put solar panels on the roofs of our schools is a great idea. But the Government’s proposed changes to the Feed in Tariff in January have put the project at risk and may well see the charity close next year if the decision to cut subsidies is not reversed.

What is Solar Schools?

Solar Schools strapline is ‘Powered by Sunshine, Funded by Everyone.’ The idea is that schools fund the work to install solar panels either by themselves or through the community and then benefit from the Feed in Tariff to achieve lower fuel bills and a good return on investment that can then be ploughed into important things like educational resources or community initiatives. It’s an excellent way to get our children involved in the green agenda and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The Guardian reported recently that campaigners were worried that:

“the ‘solar schools’ project run by environmental charity 10:10 would become unsustainable under government proposals to dramatically cut the feed-in tariff for householders and communities who install solar panels on rooftops.”

That said however, The Renewable Energy Hub still aims to continue its support for schools via its crowd funding initiative. Their system still enables schools across the UK to benefit from 100% owned, free solar panels even after the proposed cuts to the FiT have come into force. Crowdfunding for Schools – Solar Panels

Changes to the Feed in Tariff

There had been some noise about changes to the Feed in Tariff and possible reductions in subsidies for a while but the announcement and the size of the cuts at the end of the summer came as a major shock to the industry. The Government are looking to reduce FiTs by as much as 87%, effectively removing the incentive for people and businesses to invest in renewable technologies such as solar panels.

It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Back in July, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd tweeted that shale gas (from fracking) was ‘effectively a low-carbon source’ of energy. It raised a few eyebrows at the time but in fact signalled where the current Government believes the energy infrastructure of the country is heading.

Support from Gove et al

Only last year Michael Gove, then Tory Education Secretary said:

“Solar panels are a sensible choice for schools, particularly in terms of the financial benefits they can bring. It is also a great way for pupils to engage with environmental issues and think about where energy comes from.”

There were also plenty who supported the growth of solar panels on our rooftops and the benefits it could bring. At the time, the Government’s position was to move emphasis away from large solar panels to smaller units across towns and cities. Not only that, they lauded the job creation possibilities. According to the Government of the time it was a win-win situation.

So what changed? Of course, these views were expressed under the coalition government of the time and may have had more to do with the Liberal influence than what the Tories actually wanted. This means that the majority win at the May 2015 election could have been the big turning point for renewables and our hopes for a greener UK as it allowed the Tory government to implement the plans it really wanted and not to compromise.

Protests Drowned Out

The biggest noise during this week’s Tory conference was over the changes to tax credits which may well see many poorer members of our society struggle to make ends meet. Whilst this is obviously something that we should all be concerned about, for the renewables industry this presents something of a problem. To try and push back the changes planned for the Feed in Tariff this January, protestors need to get the green agenda at the top of the news. The simple fact is that without media pressure to support industry concerns, then the changes may well slide through without most of the population noticing.

In the meantime, bright initiatives such as Solar Schools may well become a thing of the past, a good idea consigned to the ideological rubbish bin. If we are to save the renewables industry and prevent it from being irreparably damaged, voices have to be heard and the Government has to listen. Time is beginning to run out if we want to make a difference.

 By Steve M.

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