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Solar power companies in plea to maintain green jobs

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Low-carbon companies say government is ‘sleepwalking to green tech disaster’

  • The Observer, Sunday 19 April 2009
Solarshuttle boat

The Solarshuttle boat on the Serpentine in London has proved popular but experts fear for the future of new solar projects. Photograph: D Burke/Alamy/Alamy

Staff are being laid off by British solar power companies weeks after the government promised to create thousands of jobs in the “green” economy.

Companies from across the industry will this week accuse ministers and civil servants of damaging their business with funding cuts, “delay and disinterest”.

More than 20 companies and lobby groups will petition the prime minister just weeks after Gordon Brown launched a strategy that forecast 400,000 new jobs could be created in low-carbon sectors in the next decade.

Jeremy Leggett of Solarcentury, a former government adviser who coordinated the petition, said he knew of three companies that had made staff redundant, and another installation business had gone bust. More “needless job losses” will follow unless the government makes an “urgent intervention” in this week’s budget, warns the petition, which will be delivered tomorrow.

“When I was asked to address the prime minister’s jobs summit just three months ago, cabinet ministers assured me personally that green jobs and investment would lie at the very heart of the government’s recovery programme,” Leggett told the Observer. “And yet a few weeks later the reality is that we are once again scrabbling about trying to patch up an underfunded grant scheme … and banging our heads against a brick wall of departmental delay and disinterest. The government appears to be sleep-walking to a green tech job-loss disaster of its own making.”

Leggett added: “I’m not saying this is what’s going on, but it’s as though they are doing the most effective thing they can to cause the industry to stall; it’s as though they are setting us up to fail.”

The petition, signed by solar and construction organisations, is the latest embarrassment for ministers over energy and environment policies.

Several major energy companies, including Shell, BP and Centrica, have said they will axe or reconsider investment in “low carbon” energy such as wind and solar power and carbon capture for coal-fired power stations. The Confederation of British Industry has warned that, if ministers do not take “urgent action”, billions of pounds of investment needed to cut global warming emissions and make sure the UK does not run out of power will move to the US and China.

The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) will also warn this week that funding cuts and bureaucracy are in danger of “derailing” the UK’s micro and small wind turbine industry, one of the few green sectors in which the UK boasts a number one world position.

The UK solar industry claims to employ 1,600 people in the UK and estimates this could rise to 100,000 by 2020. The BWEA calculates that the micro and small turbine sector employs 1,880 people, potentially rising to 10,000 by 2030.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “The popularity of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme has led to an over-subscription in solar PV applications … We are seeing increased interest for solar thermal, ground source heat pumps and small wind, and want to ensure that these technologies can also benefit from the programme up to June 2009.”


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