Critics blame solar farms for high electricity bills as it emerges owners earn more money from taxpayer-funded handouts than selling energy
- Ten of UK’s biggest solar farms pocketed £3million plus in eco subsidies last year
- Total cost of providing subsidies to renewables market is estimated at £7billion
- The plants were encouraged to get off the ground with generous handouts
Britain’s biggest solar farms get more money in taxpayer subsidies than they make from selling the electricity they produce.
The plants were encouraged to get off the ground with generous handouts, funded from ‘green taxes’ on fuel bills.
Now many of them make the majority of their cash from the subsidies.
Some farms have been snapped up by private firms, venture capitalists and pension funds which realise they are guaranteed money-spinners, in part because of the Government-backed handouts.
Britain’s biggest solar farms get more money in taxpayer subsidies than they make from selling the electricity they produce
But critics say the system, which often guarantees the handouts for 15 or 20 years, has been way too generous and skewed the energy market – leading to bigger household electricity bills.
Dr John Constable, director of charity Renewable Energy Foundation, which publishes data on the energy sector, said: ‘The legacy entitlements are costing consumers dearly and will continue to do so for many years to come.
‘In order to remain internationally competitive, the UK needs to scrape every barnacle off the hull of the economy – retrospective cuts to renewables subsidies cannot be ruled out.’
Ten of the UK’s biggest solar farms pocketed £3million or more each in eco subsidies in 2017/18, statistics from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) reveal.
The total cost of providing subsidies to the renewables market is estimated at around £7billion – of which about £1billion filters through to solar energy.
Treasury officials ended new subsidies to solar farms in 2014 but existing farms are still guaranteed generous handouts until the end of their contracts.
The total cost of providing subsidies to the renewables market is estimated at around £7billion – of which about £1billion filters through to solar energy (stock photo)
The biggest beneficiary in 2017/18 was Bradenstoke Solar Park, near Chippenham, Wiltshire. The 213-acre site was given a handout of £4.2million, but generated electricity worth about £2.6million. The nation’s largest installation, Shotwick Solar Park, in Deeside, North Wales, was handed a £3.9million subsidy – but churned out £2.57million in power. Owl’s Hatch, in Herne Bay, Kent, got about £1.5million more in subsidies than it made in electricity.
After subsidies were scrapped, the building of new solar farms spent several years in the doldrums. But now several subsidy-free projects are in the pipeline.
The Sunnica Energy farm wants to create two sites across Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and generate 500MW of electricity, making it the UK’s biggest solar farm. Leonie Greene, of the Solar Trade Association, said it was ‘ridiculous’ to remove existing subsidies to farms. ‘We need solar power more than ever and support for solar among the public is at a record high of 89 per cent,’ she said.
‘If we were to retrospectively change the basis on which people had invested in solar… it would shatter the confidence of investors in the UK and the Government will know that’s a ridiculous idea.’