RENEWABLES FOR SCHOOLS
Solar for Schools:
Is This The End?
The 2015 solar PV Feed-in Tariff (FiT) consultation was perhaps the most anticipated event in the history of the UK solar industry. It managed to produce over 55,000 consultation responses and over 180,000 responses from the general public. Considering the last solar consultation (over the removal of preliminary accreditation) yielded 2,372 responses, the latest FiT consultation proved to be a clear signal that the British public wanted their views on the Feed-in Tariff to be heard loud and clear.
Once again, the overwhelming majority respondents were opposed to the proposed changes. As were some of the most well known figures in politics, business and sustainability. London Mayor Boris Johnson, CBI director-general John Cridland, Chief Scientist to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Professor Jacqueline McGlade, all stepped forward to criticise the Government's proposed FiT reduction. Even former US Vice President Al Gore got in on the act and lambasted the Government's approach to green energy.
Renewables for Schools submitted our response to the Government's consultation (and DECC were kind enough to identify our consultation response, along with several other great organisations which took the time to explain why removing support for the solar industry was plainly the wrong thing to do). Entitled "BRINGING BACK POWER TO THE PUPILS," our document laid out the reasons why we believed schools and communities should continue to benefit from the Feed-in Tariff and Governmental support. We outlined how the Government could still comfortably afford to pay out subsidies to the school and community sectors whilst simultaneously controlling spending on the Levy Control Framework (LCF) budget. Considering that the Government is paying out energy bills to the tune of £500 million every year to schools anyway, we believed it made more sense to get all the nation's schools onside and generating their own clean energy (whilst enabling them to benefit both environmentally and educationally).
What were the results of this consultation?
As for as solar PV goes: not so good. Deployment caps were announced to be set to limit new spending on the FiT scheme to £100 million up to the end of 2018-19. The early closure of Renewables Obligation (RO) was confirmed, as was the removal of the grandfathering guarantee (which offers a fixed rate of support from the date of accreditation) for projects in England and Wales under 5MW.
Then of course came the Feed-in Tariffs reductions, some which were as high as 64%. If this was DECC bowing to pressure to revise their proposed solar tariffs, then they certainly weren't bending very far.
Now some may argue that if we compare the proposed rate vs. the actual rate, we can see that the FiT rates below 250kW did not go down as much as originally anticipated:
But to argue that's a good thing would be to overlook the all important fact that this reduction has already been enough for many people to cancel their plans for solar PV and for many solar firms to already shut down. Even by the Government's own impact assessment, these cuts may eventually result in over 18,000 solar jobs being lost.
It should be mentioned at this point that there was one welcome outcome of the consultation; namely the reintroduction of pre-accreditation for solar projects over 50kW. Although for most, the reinstatement was simply tantamount to closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.
The full results of the consultation can be seen right here:
So where does this leave schools?
On the one hand, schools benefitted the most from the Feed-in Tariff cuts, as the highest FiT rate of 4.59p is around about the size of system that a school would typically go for.
On the other hand, the Government have long been facing calls to provide more solar support for schools. Even at the old. higher FiT rate, schools were struggling to go solar. Reducing the Feed-in Tariff, even to the highest rate of 4.59p, has in many ways served as the final nail in the coffin.
This is not simply conjecture either. Renewables for Schools has already suffered several cancelled projects as a result of DECC's decision.
The Energy4All group also reported that some schools had decided to not to pursue with their solar projects due to the uncertainty surrounding the FiT changes. Charity 10:10 have stated that their Solar Schools project will be facing possible closure in 2016, as their financial model might not stack up any longer with the reduction in FiT. Current estimates suggest that the number of schools which cancelled or indefinitely postponed their plans to deploy rooftop solar after the consultation announcement may have run into the several hundreds.
Make no mistake about it: schools have been hit, and they have been hit hard. The fallout is not just affecting schools, but indeed everybody within the 'solar schools' sector. The engines that have been at the heart of the solar schools movement's very existence is now being threatened, and nobody is feeling that more right now than the shining star of the UK's solar PV industry; the community energy sector.
Community Energy England compiled a report using extensive research from a survey of 82 community energy organisations, with support from Quantum, Power to Change and Greenpeace. They discovered that the FiT changes would be expected to seriously damage the community energy sector to the point at which all the momentum built up over the last few years could be lost. Investors' confidence has seemingly vanished overnight, and with it: many schools' only option to deploy solar panels on their rooftops.
Schools now need something to help them recover from the negative fallout of the Government's consultation. Unless the Government backtrack and introduce a new mechanism or initiative through which schools can be supported in their endeavour to run on sun, then it is fair to say that the Government have secured a fateful end for the solar for schools movement.
Then there is the added consideration that the children will now see and know that we are not trying to combat climate change and they will adopt this same nonchalant attitude.
The only question we have to ask ourselves is, do we really want to leave this same nonchalant attitude behind as our legacy?
Faith in the system
The Church of England have worked closely with the 10:10 Solar Schools campaign and have been one of the biggest proponents of getting solar onto school rooftops. With 4598 state-funded Church of England faith schools, several hundred CofE academies, and over 500 independent schools declaring themselves to be CofE, it's easy to see why the church have called for a drastic rethink of FiT cuts for schools and communities.
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the Church of England's lead bishop on the environment, has spoken out in the House of Lords on the matter. Church Commissioners have also expressed their serious concern over the current direction of Government environmental policy and the impact the FiTs cut would have on proposed renewable energy projects.
Most Revd Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury recently went on record to say that the church must be a "key partner" in tackling climate change, and earlier this year endorsed the Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change 2015, which was also signed by other UK denominations and faiths, and which called on faith communities to develop the resources that will strengthen future generations. It will be difficult to see how developing future generations' resources could be achieved if not through the nation's schools.
The Church have made it very apparent that climate change is a moral priority for them and they clearly do not want to see FiT cuts affecting the ability of schools and communities to go solar. With one million children currently attending CofE schools, could 2016 be the year we see the Church intervening on the issue of solar for schools?
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has welcomed the COP21 Paris Agreement and has called for urgent action to tackle climate change. © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk
How does the recent COP21 Paris conference fit into all this?
The agreement reached at the recent COP21 Paris conference exposed a paradox: even if all of the nations' targets are delivered, by using the UNFCCC's own analysis; it will only limit global warming by 2.7C. This figure is well above the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement.
That's why 196 countries (195 + EU) agreed that the only way that we can ensure a 1.5C target is met would be if the next generation could figure out a way to be able to reverse climate change. That kind of technological advancement can only be achieved through a deeper understanding of renewable energy and sustainable technologies and the only way the next generation are going to be able to reach that goal is through education.
Then there is the fact that Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi launched an international solar alliance of over 120 countries (which includes the UK). The alliance is set to allow nations to share solar technology and mobilise financial resources throughout the world, and already schools have been spoken about as an idealogical benefactor of the initiative.
That's why the majority of people see the recent reduction of the FiT as being at complete odds with the commitments the Government made at Paris. If there was one major standout achievement of the Paris Agreement, it was the renewable energy commitments that were made, and taking away solar from schools might not be the wisest action for a Government expected to set a standard for the rest of the world to follow.
So what does 2016 have in store for Renewables for Schools?
Renewables for Schools will continue to provide sustainable support for schools and develop educational awareness around environmental matters as usual. We will be continuing to work with our partners both at home and abroad, and we'll also be bringing a renewed focus on making sure that children's voices are heard.
Recent polling revealed that 74% of young people in Britain aged between 11–16 agreed that they are worried about how climate change will affect their future and they wanted to see the UK Government doing more to tackle climate change. Everybody from UNICEF and WWF to Friends of the Earth have stressed the importance of consulting and including children in climate change matters, as it is these very children who will have to suffer, pay for, and attempt to rectify the damage that we have been responsible for. It is crucially also these children who we are going to have to rely upon to come up with the innovative solutions to tackle climate change in the future.
We recently asked 10 pupils from 10 different schools across England what they thought about solar power and fossil fuel generated electricity. Given the choice between the two, 10 out of 10 pupils wanted to see their school running on solar power.
By taking that into account, the recent reduction in the solar FiTs has just made our job an awful lot harder. However, we know that it is only by working with the Government, not against them, that will we be able to find a solution which addresses what the overwhelming majority of British children are saying, whilst balancing the need to limit the impact on consumers' bills and mitigate carbon emissions.
That's precisely why 2016 will be the year that Renewables for Schools are prepared to go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure that pupils are provided with the clean energy they so dearly want to see in their schools and in their communities.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron. © AP Photo/Michel Euler
It was quite telling when Prime Minister David Cameron recently asked what we would have to say to our grandchildren if we failed at the COP21 Paris conference:
"We’d have to say, “it was all too difficult”, and they would reply, “well, what was so difficult?”
What was it that was so difficult when the earth was in peril? When sea levels were rising in 2015? When crops were failing? When deserts were expanding? What was it that was so difficult?
Was it difficult when 97% of scientists the world over have said that climate change is urgent and man-made and must be addressed? When there are over 4,000 pieces of literature and reviews making exactly this point? Our grandchildren would rightly ask us: what was so difficult?
You had this technology, you knew it worked, you knew that if you gave it to poor and vulnerable countries they could protect themselves against climate change – why on earth didn’t you do it?
What I’m saying is that instead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today."
We couldn't have put it any better ourselves.
Below is our original response to the announcement of the Feed-In Tariff. None of this would have been possible without the help of Friends of the Earth, who have been the biggest supporters and advocates of the solar schools movement.
The results of DECC's consultation were published on 17/12/2015, so this action has now expired. But please be sure to visit Friends of the Earth's "online actions page" to find out other ways in which you can help to make a difference:
Save Our Solar
Renewables for Schools Director Fergal McEntee as the face of Friends of the Earth's #SaveOurSolar campaign
The Government has just proposed huge cuts to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) - the scheme which supports solar PV installations. If the Government are successful in their endeavour, it will result in putting at least 20,000 UK jobs at risk and increasing our annual carbon emissions by 1.6 million tonnes (which is equivalent to the total emissions from nearly 1.8 billion pounds of coal being burned - lots, in other words).
The net result is that most families, schools, council tenants and community groups will no longer be able to afford solar PV.
Renewables for Schools directors Fergal and Michael are helping Friends of the Earth to stop the Government ending their support for solar PV and you can too by visiting their website and writing to your local MP:
Subsidies for all renewables in the UK currently cost £3.5 billion per year compared to £26 billion per year in subsidies for fossil fuels. The proposed cuts will only save at most £6 from household utility bills, which is far less than the £400 per year the average UK household is paying to subsidise the fossil fuel industry.
Undeniable evidence shows us that climate change is here right now and enabling our children to build a brighter future by embracing renewable energy is no longer a matter of politics or debate; it has become a matter of our own survival.
Renewables for Schools Managing Director Michael Hajilou says, "Right now children are our most powerful weapon in the combat against climate change. All our efforts should be concentrated on making sure they realise the benefits of renewable energy, instead of taking it away from them."
Renewables for Schools have also joined a coalition of groups and businesses - including Friends of the Earth, Panasonic and Ikea - who are calling on the Government to reconsider their proposed Feed-in Tariff (FiT) cuts:
Please help save UK jobs and safeguard our childrens' and our planet's future by making your voice heard today:
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