My Voice is Too Small

Political connections and a strong lobby group can do things that a good cause and holding the right moral position cannot. When governments make decisions they succumb to the influence of the powerful.

Political connections and a strong lobby group are features of the rich and well connected, not of the poor or needy or those folk who are simply struggling in their lives. Mr Cameron was careful to choose his friends among the rich and powerful; he would not be mates with the fellows who turn out on Sunday morning for the local pub football side in a good cause and I am sure he does not count ordinary folk who work in ordinary jobs without influence as his mates. Similarly Messrs Miliband and Clegg have had insulated lives away from ordinary folk and gravitate towards the well connected as part of the British culture of doing each other favours indirectly as opposed to more blatant corruption.

A good example is the way in which the good and the great have lobbied around the solar photovoltaic industry, whose subsidy was cut recently. According to the PV industry the subsidy cut for PV will end the world as we know it; businesses will close, many will lose their employment and investment in renewables will be lost because the cuts will affect investor confidence.

In the past eighteen months a lot of people have made a lot of money out of PV. The feed in tariff was over generous, enabling PV to be given away so the roof owner has a little free electricity in the daytime but the investor retains the feed in tariff, paid by the taxpayer or the energy payer as a whole and four times the retail resale rate of electricity.

The feed in tariff income from dozens of properties is often amalgamated by those who retained it and whole chunks of it sold as sure fire government backed financial investment. I doubt if this was ever intended. In saving the planet terms it is like travelling from London to Glasgow by way of Tokyo.

As more PV was installed the cost of the panels fell by about half as did the installation costs as installers became familiar with the techniques to install it efficiently. None of these savings were passed on to the consumer or the government who continued to pat a feed in tariff based on out of dated cost information.

The PV industry has been lobbying hard to keep the tariff as it was for more than a year. They can hardly claim a tariff cut was a surprise, but they did and are expecting to apply for a judicial review. This is where the claims of lost jobs and lost renewable energy come in, and the PV industry has managed even to enrol the support of those greatest and the goodest, the Church of England and the National Trust, in their desire to maintain their excessive profits.

The truth is that PV has always been overrated (in terms of emission savings and in terms of usefulness) but has managed to grow because the industry is made up of very large manufacturers many of whom are multinational companies and because people like Jeremy Leggett was an advisor to Tony Blair when Blair was in opposition and managed to persuade the government that PV should be subsidised more than any other form of microgeneration. Mr Leggett went on to found Solar Century, a very large PV company and the PV industry has never looked back. There is nothing as good as being mates with the leader of a country when it comes to getting state subsidies for your business.

All this fuss is being created over “solar panels” but there are two types. The publicity about dropping subsidies to a reasonable level is about electric solar panels – PV – whereas the real scandal is in the heat producing solar panels – solar thermal – and you can scan the media for years and find nothing about this scandal.

Solar thermal, I hold, is more useful, saves more emissions over its life time, creates an energy that can conveniently stored and that everyone uses, but has always been subsidised less than PV in the United Kingdom. I confess it is my own industry – making and distributing solar panels not to generate electricity but to create heat, usually for water and space heating. The industry has suffered from poor government policy – stop start subsidies, long periods without any subsidy at all, confusing and delayed policy implementation – which has already costs tens of thousands of jobs and created a complete lack of investor and lender confidence in solar thermal.

I have not seen the great and the good complain; all the predictions that the great and the good and the PV industry have made about PV have already happened to the solar thermal industry.

I have tried, with my small voice, to lobby. I met my MP, Michel Freer, and recently wrote to lobby for solar thermal and ask him to push the government to get on with the long promised Renewable Heat Incentive. I wrote clearly and precisely (he asked me to write to him in this way). I eventually got a letter back telling me about government plans for PV. I doubt that he did more than glance through the letter for a few seconds, saw the word “solar” and got someone to trot out the party line about PV, which I never mentioned at all in the letter. I have given up asking for his help. I am not part of the great and the good, I do not have the ear of the Prime Minister and I am not a newspaper editor or a billionaire. My voice is too small.

 

2 Responses

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