The U.K. government said today it’s seeking permission from the Supreme Court to appeal against decisions by two lower courts that its planned early cuts to solar subsidies are unlawful.
The High Court ruled in December that plans for a Dec. 12 cut in the so-called feed-in tariffs paid for electricity from solar panels were illegal. The government then lost a case at the Court of Appeal to overturn that decision. The Department of Energy and Climate Change said today in an e-mailed statement that ministers “respectfully disagree” with the last ruling.
“We have today lodged an application with the Supreme Court seeking that court’s permission to appeal,” the department said. “We want to see the available funding spread as far and wide as possible, making FITs a scheme for the many not a scheme for the few.”
Ministers say the cuts are needed to stem a surge in solar power that threatened to eat up the subsidy budget, which also covers small-scale wind and hydropower plants and biomass burners. Through uncertainty created by legal proceedings, the government may be limiting solar installations before March 3, when it has said it will definitely bring subsidy cuts in.
The case was brought against the government by Solarcentury Holdings Ltd., Homesun Ltd. and the environmental group Friends of the Earth after ministers sought to cut the so-called feed-in tariffs paid for electricity from solar panels on Dec. 12, before the end of a consultation on the reductions.
“If we are lucky this is just a cynical exercise to limit the market to 3rd March and they will withdraw in a few weeks,” Solarcentury Chairman Jeremy Leggett said in an e-mailed statement.
The government on Feb. 9 outlined plans for regular reviews of the tariffs to provide predictability for the industry, and said it’s targeting 22 gigawatts of solar power in the U.K. by 2020, more than 20 times the current level. Cuts in the subsidies will enable more capacity to be installed within the existing budget, according to the energy department.
“A successful appeal will allow ministers to slash renewable energy subsidies at any time,” Friends of the Earth Executive Director Andy Atkins said in an e-mailed statement. “This misguided appeal will only add to the uncertainty hovering over the renewable clean energy industry.”
Climate Change Minister Greg Barker on Jan. 23 said in Parliament that the government had so far incurred 66,400 pounds ($105,000) in legal fees fighting the case. Caroline Flint, energy spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said the government was wasting taxpayer money on the case.
“This government has already wasted tens of thousands of pounds on legal fees in a desperate attempt to save face over their chaotic mismanagement of the cuts to the feed-in tariff for solar power,” Flint said. “Taxpayers should not be made to foot the bill for this government’s incompetence.”
In January, the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne, told lawmakers in parliament that the government was “spending a few thousand pounds in order to save consumers 1.5 billion pounds,” the estimated lifetime costs of projects that might have been installed from December through March under the old subsidy levels without the uncertainty created by the ongoing legal battle.