European Governments Rip Up Renewable Contracts

  • Date: 19/03/14
  • Brady Yauch, National Post

Governments across Europe, regretting the over-generous deals doled out to the renewwable energy sector, have begun reneging on them. To slow ruinous power bills hikes, governments are unilaterally rewriting contracts and clawing back unseemly profits.

In Italy, one of Europe’s largest economies and one that lavished billions in subsidies on the renewable sector, the government in 2013 applied its so-called “Robin Hood tax” to renewable energy producers. Under the new rule, renewable energy producers with more than €3 million in revenue and income greater than €300,000 must now pay a tax of 10.5%.

That follows a 2012 move to charge all solar producers a five cent tax per kilowatt hour on all self-consumed energy. The government also told solar producers that it would stop taking their power – and would offer no compensation – when their output overwhelms the system.

The result of these and other changes, says the solar industry, has been a surge in bankruptcies and a massive decrease in solar investment.

In Belgium – where both regional and federal bodies hand out renewable subsidies – a number of retroactive changes have capped the largesse renewable producers once received. In one region the price for “green certificates” – which producers received for renewable energy – was slashed by 79%. The government original committed to buy green certificates at a benchmarked price for 20 years, then cut it to 10 years.

Belgium’s regulators tried to impose a fee on all energy added to the grid from small- to medium-sized solar producers. While the country’s court of appeals struck down that fee, a defiant regional government plans to reintroduce it next year, forcing all solar producers to pay an annual fee that varies with the power they pump into the grid. Various municipalities, meanwhile, are introducing taxes on new and existing wind turbines.

As in Italy, Belgium’s renewable sector in the county has gone dark –“imploded” in the view of a solar industry publication. Many companies shrank or went bankrupt.

In France the government last year cut by 20% the “guaranteed” rate offered to all solar producers, and retroactively applied it to projects connected to the grid in the previous three months. The government is also considering ending an 11% tax break on solar energy producers.

Perhaps the most dramatic moves occurred in Spain, for years the poster child for those touting a transition to green energy.

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