SOLAR panel installation firms have responded angrily after the Government announced a cut off date for new customers to receive higher subsidy rates just weeks from now.

As widely expected the Government yesterday said it intends to reduce the Feed-in Tariffs (Fits) subsidy from 43p per kWh to 21p per kWh.

While Fits exist to encourage all forms of renewables, about 97 per cent have so far gone into the photovoltaic (PV) panels used in the solar industry.

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Although not as low as some of the 100 solar industry firms already established in the North-East had feared it could go, the addition of a December 12 as a cut off date for customers to receive the present tariffs after next April caused anger yesterday.

Many firms with advanced orders are set to struggle to fulfil them prior to that date, which would see householders receive the present tariff for the next 25 years.

The Government has introduced December 12 for the new tariff to start, despite the consultation period on the proposals not finishing until December 23.

Malcolm Potter of the North-East Renewables Alliance (Nera), a consortium made up of small firms which install renewable energy devices, said firms had already accepted the tariffs would be cut, but were shocked by the cut-off date.

He "I don't think people are jumping up and down about the tariff reduction although it is severe.

"But this cut off date was completely unexpected, it has taken everybody by surprise."

"It does seem really strange that such a drastic event would take place within the consultation period."

He added: "The whole thing not only has to be installed by December 12 by registered and licensed by that time as well.

"It is a short period of time, although the installers will work flat out. The work that they will be doing is on their order book anyway.

"They will try and satisfy the existing order book but the reality is they probably won't be able to satisfy all the orders they have got."

Wayne Richardson, managing director of renewable energy company Revolution Power in Newton Aycliffe, employing 18, said: "We are lucky in a lot of respects as we are not like a lot of the new start-up companies which are just doing solar, we do the full range of technologies and have work continuing into next year.

"But a third of my staff are dedicated to PV and if nobody is taking it up then there is a risk to jobs and that is the same across the whole industry.

"I was talking to one guy at another firm today, it is all he does and he is in total despair."

Mr Richardson also feared a shortage in available panels as firms raced to meet the December 12 deadline.

He added: "I think we are going to struggle to fulfill all the orders. We have the capacity and know we can do 15 installations a week but could struggle to get the panels."

Climate change minister Greg Barker yesterday admitted that firms in the sector faced a challenge.

He said: "Although I fully realise that adjusting to the new lower tariffs will be a big challenge for many firms, it won't come as a surprise to many in the solar industry who've themselves acknowledged the big fall in costs and the big increase in their rate of return over the past year."

The Government said that the cost of an average domestic solar panel installation has fallen by at least 30per cent since the start of the scheme in April 2010, from around £13,000 in April 2010 to £9,000 now.

In addition it said there had been a surge in households installing solar panels, threatening to break its budget for Fits.

"The plummeting costs of solar mean we've got no option but to act so that we stay within budget and not threaten the whole viability of the Fits scheme," Mr Barker added.