The first solar power plant to be built in the UK without any subsidy from the Government has been opened by the Climate Change Minister, Claire Perry, in which she described as a “significant moment for clean energy”.
Clayhill solar farm near Flitwick, Bedfordshire, will provide enough power for 2,500 homes and also features battery storage to enable the electricity to be used at any time of day.
The cost of renewables has been falling rapidly as the technology improves and it is now much cheaper than new nuclear power.
The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is being built after the Government guaranteed a price of £92.50 per megawatt-hour of electricity. This means if the market price falls below this level, billpayers pay more to make up the difference. Recently an offshore wind farm was awarded a contract with the much lower guaranteed price of £57.50.
Fossil fuels receive vast subsidies such as £4.8bn in support under a Government export scheme since 2010, compared to just £39m for renewables since 2012.
The solar industry has warned that the Government is endangering the sector by increasing taxes on panels and failing to give it a level playing field with oil, coal and gas.
But, in a statement, Ms Perry hailed a historic moment for solar.
“The cost of solar panels and batteries has fallen dramatically over the past few years, and this first subsidy-free development at Clayhill is a significant moment for clean energy in the UK,” she said.
“Solar panels already provide enough electricity to power 2.7 million homes, with 99 per cent of that capacity installed since 2010.
“The Government is determined to build on this success and our ambitious Clean Growth Strategy will ensure we continue to lead the world on the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
The statement said that ministers expected more developers to install subsidy-free solar farms this year.
Steve Shine, executive chairman of the firm behind Clayhill, Anesco, said it was proof that the Government had not killed off solar by slashing subsidies to a minimal level.
“For the solar industry, Clayhill is a landmark development and paves the way for a sustainable future, where subsidies are no longer needed or relied upon,” he said.
“Importantly, it proves that the Government’s decision to withdraw subsidies doesn’t have to signal the end of solar as a commercially viable technology.”
However Leonie Greene, of the Solar Trade Association, said the Clayhill plant was an exception and repeated the call for a level playing field with other forms of power generation.
“Solar and storage have a major role to play in providing consumers with cheap, reliable power, so this scheme is a hugely important landmark,” she said.
“Our congratulations to Anesco for making this happen in a difficult context for solar power. It is fantastic that the UK industry continues to innovate with new technologies and we anticipate there will be a number of pathfinder schemes like this over the next few years.
“However, the reality is it is only exceptional projects that can be commissioned today. Considerable work has gone into this exciting pathfinder scheme which has some particular characteristics.
“If we are to meet national carbon targets and deliver cheaper power for consumers then Government must provide a level playing field for both solar power and for new storage technologies. That means allowing solar to compete again in the UK’s clean power auctions, which it has been shut out of for two and a half years. It also means fair grid treatment and opening up markets for the many services solar and storage can provide.
“We hope Government will set out actions to level the playing field for the tremendously innovative solar industry in its forthcoming Clean Growth Plan.”