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Scottish industry unites behind solar demands

Solar Energy UK
08 November 2022 

Urgent changes to Scottish planning law and tax rules have today been backed by a substantial number of companies, both from the solar industry and across sectors including agriculture, warehousing, distilling and food.[1]

Businesses continue to face unprecedented energy costs, alongside facing inflation throughout their supply chains, while climate change continues to bite. Solar power, which can be installed extremely quickly, cuts both bills and carbon from day one, building the low carbon economy that the Scottish government says it wants.

Alongside trade association Solar Energy Scotland, two dozen companies and organisations have therefore written to Scottish Ministers, calling on them to allow the installation of solar panels with up to five megawatts’ capacity without having to seek planning permission. This is a hundred times more than the highly restrictive ‘permitted development’ threshold of only 50 kilowatts that currently applies.

In England, rooftop installations up to one megawatt may proceed without prior permission.

The letter also urges the Scottish Government to exempt the payment of non-domestic rates on new solar panels on a twelve-year rolling basis: businesses in England have already been exempted for twelve years from paying business rates on solar panels. This would help speed adoption and bring in additional revenue for local government over the rest of the working lifetimes of solar panels installed on industrial and commercial premises.

Bill Dean, Managing Director of Deans Shortbread, said: “We have put off investing on solar PV panels for more than six years, entirely because the business rating system penalises businesses for trying to help themselves control their energy cost. If this matter had been addressed years ago, businesses would more than likely have invested in fully covering their roofs with solar panels and would have been in a much better position to face the energy price crisis.”

The letter notes that: “Rising energy costs are affecting everyone in Britain and are only forecast to get worse this winter. Businesses are still exposed to far higher bills than in recent years; the recent Scottish Business Monitor report from Fraser of Allander found that 91% of respondent businesses were concerned about energy costs. 40% of Scottish businesses expect to reduce their operations this year due to high energy costs, while only 5% of Scottish businesses are expecting strong growth over the next year.”

In June of this year the Scottish Parliament debated solar power for the first time, during which the debate MSPs from all parties backed the growth of the industry in Scotland.[2] Ministers were pressed to make both these changes, alongside adopting an ambition to deploy 4-6GW of solar across Scotland by 2030. Solar Energy Scotland has estimated that a solar industry on that scale could deliver more than 8,500 jobs across Scotland by 2030.[3]

Thomas McMillan, Chair of Solar Energy Scotland, said: “Solar energy is now the cheapest energy source available to Scottish businesses, and can be deployed rapidly, improving our energy security and reducing our carbon emissions. Given we face growing climate breakdown, geopolitical instability and sharply rising costs, I hope these simple changes can be delivered before the end of the year.

“Ministers have promised a solar vision document by the end of the year, but right now we cannot find out what they expect to include within it. A top-level ambition by 2030 would recognise the importance of solar alongside similar targets for wind power, and these minor changes to planning and tax rules would make a major contribution to meeting a target of that sort,” he added.

Clare Bottle, Chief Executive of the UK Warehousing Association, said: “The signatories to this letter come from so many different sectors of Scottish business, each with their own issues but all united around these proposals. Whatever our line of work, we need to cut our costs as energy prices soar, and we also want to play our part in helping Scotland meet Parliament’s climate targets.

“From our own perspective, our members have thousands of square metres of roofspace just crying out for solar panels. If they are running energy-intensive operations like refrigeration, solar would substantially cut their costs and carbon footprint. If not, they could be contributing to decarbonisation and also bringing in new revenue. Either way it’s win-win,” she said.

[1] Letter from Solar Energy Scotland

[2] The Official Report of the first ever solar debate in the Scottish Parliament, instigated by Fergus Ewing MSP

[3] The Solar Skills Scotland briefing paper estimates that reaching 6 gigawatts of solar power capacity by 2030 could support 8,644 new jobs, 5,597 at 4GW. Those calculations are based on ONS figures, and Solar Energy Scotland also used comparator data from the US and the EU. The EU figures were closely comparable, and the US data markedly higher.  

Image Credit: Project Dragonfly in Glasgow by Low Energy

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Editors’ notes: 
For more information or to request an interview, please contact: 

Gareth Simkins, Senior Communications Adviser | [email protected] 

[email protected] | solarenergyuk.org