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In the United States, many conservatives say President Obama’s policy to rely less on fossil fuels, especially coal, is a “job killer,” especially in coal-mining states such as Kentucky and West Virginia.
Across the Atlantic, however, one leading clean energy industry group is turning the tables, accusing Britain’s Conservative government of killing jobs by proposing cuts in subsidies for renewable energy projects.
The Solar Trade Association (STA) reported Monday that its survey of 204 solar companies found that 576 employees have lost their jobs, in addition to the 1,200 solar jobs lost in the past several months at three companies that already have gone bankrupt. This brings the total number of confirmed solar job losses so far to nearly 1,800.
“Those 1,800 jobs that we know have already gone represent technical skills and experience that has been built up in the solar industry over the last five years,” said Paul Barwell, STA’s CEO. “It is this very supply chain and know-how that is essential to delivering low-cost solar. And yet the government is at risk of throwing many more of these jobs away.”
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The industry group also reported that 1,600 more solar employees may be idled in 2016 if the Tories’ go ahead with plans to cut the subsidies.
The STA emphasized that its survey included less than 10 percent of the companies in the industry. Overall more than 2,000 companies in Britain are primarily involved in solar energy, so industry wide the group hypothesized that as many as 6,500 employees have lost their jobs, with 18,500 more at risk.
“When your local solar company around the corner makes one of its installers redundant, it doesn’t hit the headlines like when a company goes bust,” said Leonie Green of the STA. “But we now know that over 500 of these jobs, and probably thousands more, have already silently disappeared in communities up and down the country.”
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In July, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron proposed an abrupt reduction of 87 percent in the “feed-in tariff,” the subsidy for rooftop solar panels and some solar farms. At the time the government said the subsidies were simply too expensive for British taxpayers to shoulder.
Energy Secretary Amber Rudd reinforced this message during the annual conference of the Conservative Party in Manchester three months later, saying there was no “magic money tree” to finance such subsidies. Besides, she says, she believes the solar energy industry will thrive without help.
“I support cutting subsidies,” Rudd said, “not because I am an anti-green Conservative, but because I am a proud green Conservative on the side of the consumer. We must be tough on subsidies. Only then can we deliver the change we need.”
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Leaders in the solar industry agree that it can thrive, but only if such subsidies are reduced gradually.
In an effort to prevent further layoffs in the solar industry, the STA has proposed a “one-pound emergency solar rescue plan,” endorsed by a non-partisan group of members of Parliament, including Conservatives. The program would add one pound to the annual bill of each residential energy user to maintain the subsidies while not straining Britain’s budget.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com