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Is it the end for large-scale solar in the UK?

Published: 22 May 2014 - Marianne Evans

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recently published a consultation paper, Consultation on changes to financial support for solar PV, setting out its intention to remove the current  support mechanism for large-scale ground mounted solar energy projects.

The Renewables Obligation (RO) will close to new projects – and extensions – above 5 MW from 1st April 2015.

Neil Budd, a lawyer in the Energy team at commercial law firm, SGH Martineau, commented: “Whilst the industry was braced for bad news, the proposal to remove ROCs entirely from projects above 5 MW has come as a shock. On a positive front, projects of 5 MW and below will remain eligible for ROCs and FiTs. It should be remembered that when the solar industry really got going in 2010, all projects were below 5 MW and it was only the dramatic cost reductions that made ROC projects financially viable. So whilst the large projects may not now proceed, developers can, at least for the moment, still develop ground-mounted projects of a moderate size. For large-scale ground-mounted projects, DECC has highlighted that projects can apply for contracts for differences (CfD) under the new regime being introduced this year. This is true, but the allocation mechanism for CfDs has not been finalised and the budget for CfDs is not scheduled to be announced until July so it is difficult for project developers who were anticipating commissioning projects at 1.3 ROCs to develop projects with no idea of the likely revenue stream. The provisions on grace periods will also be of concern. The criteria are so restrictive that the only projects likely to be eligible for the grace period are those which don’t need it.”

DECC is keen to encourage building-mounted solar projects and therefore is tweaking the degression mechanism for FiTs. This mechanism currently operates as follows; there are three-monthly tariff reviews and the amount of degression depends on deployment.

Degression operates in bands, one of which is a ‘large commercial band’ for installations greater than 50 kW and stand-alone installations. The Government’s proposal is to split the ‘large commercial band’ into two separate bands; one for non stand-alone installations above 50 kW (in practice, building-mounted installations) and the other for stand-alone installations (predominantly ground-mounted installations).

DECC proposes that the deployment triggers for the current large commercial band is split, with 75% of the capacity going to the non stand-alone band and the remaining 25% going to the stand-alone band.

In practice this means that the degression mechanism for ground-mounted FiT projects will be triggered much more quickly than at present whilst, conversely, the degression mechanism for building-mounted projects will be triggered much more slowly.         

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