Fears mount for solar industry

Solar panels
Solar panels

Proposals by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry could potentially decimate the domestic solar installation industry in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

Industry experts are warning that if plans to reduce the Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) payments given to homeowners who purchase a solar panel installation are implemented, as planned, on April 1 next year it could be devastating to the majority of businesses working in the sector in Northern Ireland.

Kieran Fitzpatrick from Renewable Solutions said he believes it could mean the reduction of over 80 companies to potentially as low as five with job losses of over 1,000 including managers, sales reps, installation teams, designers and admin staff.

He added: “The proposed ROCs reduction to 1.6 rocs for installations up to 250kw would be terminal for the Northern Ireland domestic solar business.

“This would affect all aspects of the business.

“At present if a customer finances a 4kw system they should see a return in eight to nine years. Under the new proposals this would change to around 15.

“Under present regulations a customer will receive 16.96 pence for every unit generated. The new proposal reduces this to 6.78 pence which is unprecedented compared to the current 14.38 pence in the rest of the UK.”

Neil O’Brien from the Northern Ireland Solar Trade Association echoed Mr Fitzpatrick’s comments saying: “Significant reductions in NIROC for Solar PV will almost certainly wipe out the industry’s engagement with most or all of these potential micro-generators in the short and medium term.”

And Ruth McGuigan from Belfast-based Horizon Renewables said she felt it would be literally lights out for the industry if the proposals were to go ahead.

“By reducing this tariff the Northern Ireland Executive is closing the door to the everyday person on the street and condemning them to a future of high bills,” she said.

A DETI spokesperson declined to comment on the potential job losses and company closures the proposals could cause, but said: “It is important that ROC levels are reviewed as they are ultimately paid for by electricity consumers.

“The DETI minister has a responsibility to protect the interests of consumers by making sure that they don’t pay more than they need to for renewable electricity.

“The minister welcomes the contribution that the solar PV industry, and all renewables developers, has made to the wider economy.

“The consultation seeks views on the ROC reduction proposals and seeks evidence from those who might disagree with the proposals.”