The Government is facing two threats of legal action over its plans to halve the subsidies paid for domestic solar electricity.

Friends of the Earth is challenging the proposals to reduce payments for solar electricity on the grounds that the new, lower subsidies would be brought in before the consultation into the changes has run its course.

Key Points

  • Government wants to halve solar subsidies
  • It faces threats of legal action
  • Friends of the Earth among challengers

Solar panel gains are set to plummet for those who install from 12 December, under new government plans, which were announced last week (see the Solar subsidies to be slashed news story).

The Government's proposals will see the feed-in tariff, which pays people to generate electricity, halved for those who register from 12 December (to register you need to have the panels installed), even though the consultation on the plans runs until 23 December.

Ministers say the reductions are necessary to ensure that feed-in tariffs, which have proved much more popular than anticipated, do not end up costing too much.

Campaigners fear a rush to get panels installed, which can take two months from application. They also say the cuts could mean the end for free solar installations, as companies won't have the incentive of being paid for energy as a subsidy for providing the panels.

Legal action threats

But Friends of the Earth, which has given the Government until Friday to change the proposals before it launches legal action, says the cut-off point before the end of the consultation is unlawful and will lead to projects being abandoned.

The green group's policy and campaigns director Craig Bennett says: "The Government is breaking the law with its plans to fast-track a solar industry kill-off, as well as jeopardising thousands of jobs and countless clean energy projects across the country.

"Significant time and money has been invested in planning solar schemes for homes, schools and libraries, giving them just six weeks to install is completely unacceptable and schemes have already been scrapped.

"Ministers must amend their proposals and extend the deadline for solar tariff payments, or face a judicial review."

Martin Lewis, creator, says: "Surely a fairer system would've been to simply say that anyone who has signed up and paid before the announcement will get the higher feed in tariff as expected."

Government response

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change confirms the department has received two letters warning of legal action over the changes to the feed-in tariffs for solar electricity.

The second threat of legal action is from a major solar panels installer.

She says: "We're consulting on proposed new tariffs for a reason, to protect consumers from footing the bill for excessive subsidies.

"This is a live consultation and will be open for people to comment until 23 December.

"We can confirm that we have received two letters indicating an intention to start legal proceedings against the department on certain aspects of the current consultation and we will be responding to those letters in due course."

Additional reporting by Helen Knapman.