GOVERNMENT plans to end subsidies within the solar power industry have been described as “sabotage” by Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES).

Under the plans, so called “small scale” solar farms will no longer qualify for support under the UK government’s Renewables Obligation – from April next year. New projects that receive the subsidy may also see the level cut.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd said: “Our support has driven down the cost of renewable energy significantly. As costs continue to fall it becomes easier for parts of the renewables industry to survive without subsidies.

“We can’t have a situation where industry has a blank cheque, and that cheque is paid for by people’s bills. We can’t have a system, which we’ve had up to now, where there is basically unlimited [subsidy] headroom for new renewables, including solar.”

However, FoES director Dr Richard Dixon said: “These destructive cuts and delays to the developing solar power industry are sabotaging much-needed progress on our path to a clean energy future.

“If the Government is serious about tackling climate change it must help support a renewable energy revolution to allow these technologies to reach maturation as quickly as possible and only then consider reducing their support.”

Dixon said we should be focused on making renewable energy even cheaper and accessible to more homes, communities and businesses.

He said: “UK Government seems content to offer generous public subsidies to big oil and gas companies just as we should be ending our addiction to fossil fuels.

“George Osborne has previously pledged to offer the world’s most generous tax regime for fracking and no price seems too high for new nuclear, so his supposed concern for consumer bills just doesn’t ring true.

“These cuts won’t lower electricity bills – all new energy is being subsidised to some extent and solar is already cheaper than nuclear and will soon be cheaper than gas from new power stations.”

Criticism also came from Scotland’s Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, who highlighted the potential threat to jobs.

Dixon added that the Scottish Government had not been “properly consulted” about the plans. “There are over 3,000 jobs dependent on this form of renewable energy in Scotland,” said Ewing.

“We are concerned because just at the time when the industry has said it’s getting to the point where it’s able to do without subsidy in the next few years, we’re faced with another reduction in support coupled with a lack of clarity on exactly what will be done.”

Industry leaders said Scottish firms had been left “totally in the dark” by plans to change the subsidies.

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables said UK Government support was essential to encourage investment. But he feared a lack of clarity from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) meant investments and jobs could be lost to other countries.

He said: “Scotland has an abundance of small scale hydropower and a vibrant solar energy sector.

“These smaller schemes have been attractive to developers and communities alike but those wishing to build a project now will not know what financial support they will receive until operational.

“By DECC’s own admission this move will mean fewer projects coming forward and make securing finance increasingly difficult.

“There is now so much uncertainty across the whole sector that developers of almost every technology will be hitting the pause button on planned projects, resulting in a hiatus in the industry’s growth, and a slowdown in jobs and investment.”

Meanwhile, Ewing said a further delay in providing clarity on support for renewables could “cause damage to Scotland’s offshore wind and islands renewable energy projects”.

DECC has postponed announcements on Contracts for Difference until at least the autumn. It had previously committed to publishing information this month on support for the offshore wind industry and projects on the islands.

The projects can bring huge benefits to Scottish industry and to island communities in particular, and can take years to complete. Ewing says the delay could harm them. He said: “I fear that [the delay] will directly affect jobs and investment Scotland. These would include not only jobs in the offshore wind sector itself but also in related sectors such as fabrication.”