Brits Indebted On False Solar Promises

Way back in 2017 (nearly ancient history in the world of energy tech) the United Kingdom was smashing its own solar power records and celebrating “the latest in a series of records for solar, which has grown from almost nothing seven years ago to 12GW of capacity today” as reported by the Guardian. The article went on to enumerate some of these milestones, including the fact that “In April this year [2017], Britain achieved its first-ever full working day without coal power since it started burning the fuel in 1882, thanks in part to solar energy.”

The United Kingdom’s solar sector was on a roll, bolstered by public adoption and governmental subsidies. It seemed like nothing but clear skies and sunny days for solar moving forward. This week, however, the headlines in Great Britain are singing a very different tune.

“Solar panels: Thousands of customers complain” the BBC proclaimed in bold font this week, heading a groundbreaking report on the much dimmer reality for those solar adopters on the ground in the United Kingdom. The basis of the complaint is that customers who purchased solar panels were promised substantial returns by solar companies and their sales reps, but so far those returns have not been delivered, causing financial strife for the many people that took out loans to invest in what they thought was a safe investment with guaranteed returns.

The International Network of Financial Services Ombudsman Schemes (INFO Network), a worldwide watchdog agency that provides oversight of government activity and investigates consumer complaints, has received thousands of complaints from disgruntled solar panel owners. The Financial Ombudsman Service’s Debbie Enever, from the Financial Ombudsman Service told the BBC, "We have got about 2,000 complaints about solar panels at the moment and more coming through every week." Furthermore, according to the BBC’s reporting, “Barclays Bank has put aside £38m to deal with potential claims.”

The BBC article reports that in the UK “many people took out loans to pay for panels on the promise they would save thousands of pounds in electricity costs and make money generating power” and details specific cases in which individuals were cowed by solar panel salespeople into taking out loans to pay for solar panels, in one case pushing a man saving for retirement to take out a loan of more than £10,000 over ten years from Barclays, assuring him that the financial move would ultimately contribute to his pension. When the solar panels did not produce the volume of payments he was promised by the sales rep, the man was forced to dip into his retirement savings to make his loan payments. In this particular case, the firm in question was PV Solar UK, which later went into liquidation in 2017.

This is just one of the thousands of complaints levied against the United Kingdoms’ solar panel companies. Other stories recounted by the BBC follow a very similar trajectory, similarly ending in the liquidation of other solar panel companies, notably the liquidation of MyPlanet in 2016.

The United Kingdom’s once fervent support for solar infrastructure, via significant subsidies, has been in significant decline for years. In fact, the government has gone from heavily subsidizing solar panels to proposing a 15 percent increase in value-added tax (VAT) applied to domestic clean energy technologies including solar panels. This proposal has caused outcry among environmentalists, with groups such as the Renewable Energy Association (REA), Good Energy, 10:10 Climate Action and Friends of the Earth banding together to send a letter to Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid calling on the government to oppose the move. The letter has been supported by over 17,500 citizens. According to reporting by Edie Newsroom, “the letter claims that the government must not support the proposed 15 percent increase in VAT for domestic clean energy technologies, noting that VAT remains at 5 percent for coal and gas.”

It’s been a damning week for the solar energy movement in the United Kingdom. What showed so much promise and momentum just two years ago has all but ground to a halt as governmental support falters and beleaguered and bullied solar power adopters are forced to default on their loans. The implications are devastating for proponents of clean energy and the fight against climate change.

As stated by the environmentalists' letter to Chancellor Javid, “Solar power coupled with battery storage is not just a solution to climate change. It is an economic opportunity which can address the balance of payments whilst creating a sustainable economy fit for the future. However, the UK risks losing out if policy blockers are put in the way.”

“This government must not support the proposed VAT increase to 20 percent on clean energy solutions for households, including solar and storage, whilst it remains at 5 percent for coal and gas.”

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com