Southern Solar goes into liquidation

One of Britain’s leading solar entrepreneurs is set to announce that his business has gone into liquidation, in the third high-profile casualty for the sector this month.

Howard Johns, the former chairman of the Solar Trade Association and a Government adviser on renewable energy, is expected to blame the collapse of Southern Solar on the Government for failing to support the industry properly. Earlier this month the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) denied that proposed cuts of 87 per cent in solar subsidy levels have tipped solar companies into crisis.

The latest collapse comes as the National Grid is expected to confirm that Britain faces the highest risk of blackouts in almost a decade this winter.

The company founded by Johns has played a major role installing solar power systems for schools, local authorities and businesses.

Its failure will add to the pressure on Amber Rudd, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, to find a way of averting a growing crisis in the sector.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow energy secretary, accused the government on Twitter of overseeing a “chaotic energy policy (that) is putting jobs at risk particularly because of the severe cuts they have made to solar energy schemes”.

Speculation about the future of Southern Solar soured an already troubled atmosphere at the Solar UK trade show in Birmingham this week.

One delegate at the show, Jonathan Selwyn, managing director of another leading solar company, Lark Energy, said the industry was steeled for more business failures. “We are all pretty angry. Every company I know is thinking about redundancies.

“More companies will go bust if the government does not change track. This just puts more people on benefits. It really does not add up as a sensible government policy.”

Selwyn and other executives insist the industry wants to move quickly to a point where it does not need more financial aid.

Last week, almost 1,000 jobs were lost when the Leicester-based Mark Group was put into liquidation. Climate Energy quickly followed, putting a further 128 jobs at risk.

In Whitehall, DECC insists that renewable power must learn to live with zero or lower subsidies. It argues that consumer bills are being driven up by the cost of green energy and solar barely needs financial aid given a fall in industry costs.

The introduction of a levy control framework by the government means the total amount of cash made available to renewables and other technologies is capped. The industry insists the blame for this lies with George Osborne’s austerity programme at the Treasury rather than at the DECC.

Johns was unwilling to comment ahead of a formal announcement on Thursday when he is expected to launch an angry attack on the way he feels his business has been let down by the government.

Analysis It could be lights out for solar power under this government
Terry Macalister
Terry Macalister Read more
One of the early pioneers of the British solar scene, Johns was chairman of the Solar Trade Association from 2007-12 and sat on a heat and water taskforce advising ministers on generating heat from renewable sources. He also founded a community energy cooperative, Ovesco, and is a trained plumber as well as holding a degree in energy and environmental technology.

Southern Solar has already laid off some staff in the past 12 months and more will now follow.

The Solar Trade Association lobby group has told the Government that the industry’s long-term survival could be guaranteed by extending subsidies for four more years. But it said “draconian cuts” now will sink a major British success story at a time when ministers are doing all they can to support new nuclear plants.

The STA has previously warned that as many as 27,000 jobs could be in danger and has pointed out that there have been a series of earlier cuts in subsidy levels over many years.

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