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Cuts to renewable subsidies may threaten new degree

An innovative new degree in solar power may be threatened by sweeping cuts in the governmental budget for renewable resources.

The degree, titled ‘Construction Management and Sustainable Development’, is due to be offered from September at Blackpool and The Fylde College. A key element of the degree centres on promoting a technology known as PV, which creates electricity from solar panels, to construction professionals. One of the main benefits of PV is that excess energy can be sold back to the national grid on a basic ‘feed-in’ tariff of 43p/kWh.

However, after massively underestimating the popularity of the ‘feed-in’ scheme, the government has been forced to slash Solar PV subsidies, meaning that consumers who purchased PV solar panels after December 2011 receive a tariff of only 21p/kWh, a reduction of over half.

In practice, this means the length of time until homeowners and businesses will see a profit stretches from 10 years to 18. The British Photovoltaic Association (BPVA), of which Blackpool & the Fylde’s curriculum manager Peter Rumley is a founding member, estimated this would equate to £100m in subsidy costs for solar providers.

Rumley recently visited Parliament, alongside the BPVA, to promote Blackpool & the Fylde’s newest degree and encourage investment into PV technology. After the meeting, chaired by Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change Greg Barker, Rumley commented on the minister’s positive attitude, saying, “The minister was very interested to hear about the degree and thought it was a good idea as it’s relevant to industry.”

However, Greg Barker has been the champion of cuts in solar subsidies, stating as recently as October last year that, ‘The plummeting costs of solar mean we’ve got no option but to act so that we stay within budget and not threaten the whole viability of the feed-in tariff scheme’.

With no new tariffs being introduced, it is suggested that solar industries are increasingly being left high and dry by the government’s cuts. Such a move might imply that the government has lost faith in solar power as a viable form of renewable energy.

Currently, the supreme court is blocking the government’s plans for subsidy cuts. However, with appeals still in process, critics say solar PV looks less and less like a viable investment option. If the appeal wins, diminishing revenues for businesses and homeowners mean that critics believe it is likely that few construction professionals will be drawn to the degree.

Louise Macfadyen

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