SOLAR power-producing Scots saw their green ventures thrown into more "disarray and chaos" yesterday as the UK Government vowed to pursue further legal action to cut the price it will pay for the clean energy.
The sector was given a boost after the Court of Appeal ruled Whitehall's attempt to lower payments to small-scale producers of solar power, generated by panels installed after December last year, was illegal.
However, the breakthrough was quickly thwarted by the announcement from Energy Minister Chris Huhne that a further appeal will be taken to the Supreme Court.
Loading article content
The Government wants to reduce the price paid for solar-generated electricity fed into the National Grid from 43p to 21p per KWh but faces claims the move puts 29,000 jobs at risk, some 2000 of them in Scotland.
John Conway, operations manager at Solar Panel Scotland, of Linwood, Renfrewshire, which manufactures and installs solar panels, said the further challenge left damaging uncertainty in the industry.
Mr Conway said: "We are all shocked and we are in a situation of disarray.
"Customers won't commit to signing contracts until they know what the position is.
"There is confusion yet again. We have a massive bank of orders in abeyance and the phones were crazy this morning after the court ruling with people asking if we can come out and do the work.
"We can only quote the lower tariff because we are respon-sible and have to hang fire."
The UK Government wants to bring down the value of its Feed In Tariffs (FiT) paid to homeowners and communities in line with the falling cost of solar technology, with claims the allocated budget can no longer support the higher rates.
The Court of Appeal ruling, as it stands, will allow the Government to bring in the lower rate in for panels installed after March 3 this year, giving people a window of opportunity to take advantage of the higher tariff.
The Government originally wanted to make the cut-off on December 12, before the official consultation into the changes had even ended, with Friends of the Earth and two solar panel installers arguing there had been insufficient notice. The High Court agreed, as did the Court of Appeal yesterday.
Those who had their panels installed before December 12 will remain on the higher rate.
Derek McLean, 64, of Stenton, East Lothian, was one of 12 villagers who wanted to install solar panels to his home to help pay for fuel bills. He has now put his plans on hold.
He said: "Under the higher tariff it would take me around 10 years to pay back the installation cost. With the lower tariff, it is likely to be 20 to 25 years."
Ettie Spencer, 60, is one of five out of the original group of 12 who had gone ahead with panels in Stenton.
She said: "The Government has created complete chaos. That has led to a loss in confidence of people planning to install solar panels.
"We are not talking about people with huge amounts of money but those with small nest eggs who wanted to do something responsible with their money. Instead of thinking they can do something for themselves, they now feel completely powerless."
Mr Huhne said he "disagreed" with the court's decision.
He added: "We have already put before Parliament changes to the regulations that will bring a 21p rate into effect from April for solar pv installations from March 3 to help reduce the pressure on the budget and provide as much certainty as we can for consumers and industry. We want to maximise the number of installations that are possible within the available budget rather than use available money to pay a higher tariff to half the number of installations."