Solar subsidy cut 'would hit firms'
All Northern Ireland firms specialising in generating solar electricity could close because of proposed reductions in Executive payments to householders using the renewable technology, it was claimed.
The value of Stormont subsidies available to the average homeowner is predicted to drop from more than £500 a year to just over £200 next spring because the cost of creating energy from the sun has fallen dramatically.
One business owner warned up to 50 companies which supply and install panels could be forced out of business by the change.
Ruth McGuigan, director of Horizon Renewables Ltd, said: "It will close all renewable PV (photovoltaic) businesses in Northern Ireland."
An expert report commissioned by the Executive has said that despite the proposed subsidy change solar panels would still reduce household electricity bills compared with traditional energy sources. It said the amount saved for the public purse per household through the change would be small.
The Government has subsidised the extra upfront costs of installing panels for some years to make solar cheaper than fossil fuels and encourage more use of renewable technologies.
The price of installing the PV technology, known as capital, has fallen by 69% since 2010, a study for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) showed. This reduces the length of "pay back" time it takes for the householder to earn back their outlay in reduced energy costs.
Ms McGuigan said the cut in the amount paid by the Government per unit of electricity made would hit the "little people", or householders, hard and decimate local companies.
The west Belfast-based businesswoman based this claim on the impact of cuts to tariffs in Great Britain which have already come in which she said were introduced too fast.
She added: "PV is the only renewable electricity resource that Joe Bloggs on the street can actually have.
"We have amongst the highest electricity bills in Europe."
Ms McGuigan argued that the government at Stormont was adopting Conservative Party policies.
She added: "This is disenfranchising Northern Ireland people from any energy independence."
DETI is consulting on proposed changes next spring to the subsidy, known as the Renewables Obligation. Consultation is due to close this September and a report on the proposals was published earlier this year.
It said: "In short, there has been a very significant drop in costs for PV and increases for some other technologies."
The report said analysis of the change in PV costs suggests that more substantial drops could be justified.
The authors compared a range of renewables technologies but recommended only the reduction in PV payment levels.
They said the net benefit to the public purse of the change was small when considered per household. Overall annual savings are predicted to be worth about £1 million.