7 July 2015


Spain’s solar sector fights unfair self-consumption law

Author: Jason Deign, Solarplaza

Spain’s battered PV industry is locking horns with the government over proposals to regulate renewable energy self-consumption that opponents say would kill the residential market.

The legislation, which is open to public consultation until June 24, imposes a set of tariffs and loss of current benefits that industry sources calculate will result in a 31-year payback for residential system. 

One of the penalties proposed is a levy on self-produced energy that ranges from 11% to 101% more than the grid charge currently paid by ordinary users. Solar systems above 100 kW will have to pay an additional €0.5 per megawatt-hour, plus a charge based on installed power. 

“We consider this regulatory proposal is damaging to consumers, even more than expected, in terms of the ‘democratisation’ of energy, and we see it as an affront compared to the rules in other countries ,” said Spain’s consumer watchdog , the Consumers and Users Organisation.

The legislation replaces an earlier plan put forward two years ago, which included a notorious ‘tax on the sun’. That law was never passed, but the mere prospect of it being approved effectively paralysed residential solar sales in Spain until recently. 

Over time, however, some of Spain’s autonomous communities had started to encourage residential installations. The new regulation, considered even more onerous that its predecessor, appears clearly aimed at putting a stop to such moves.  

Instead of a single tax on energy produced, there will now be variable and fixed levies covering the energy you produce and a portion of grid provision costs. Users get nothing in return for any excess energy they offload to the grid. 

Even worse, homeowners with grid-connected solar systems will have to forfeit their right to special small consumer tariffs. According to Piet Holtrop, a lawyer representing the Spanish solar sector, the majority of homeowners in Spain currently benefit from such rates. 

A final grievance is that the legislation would outlaw existing residential installations already approved in the autonomous communities such as Catalonia, where 16 MW of solar power is now in place. “We clearly see the hand of the large utilities at work here ,” said Holtrop.

For now, the solar industry cannot legally challenge the law because it has not been passed. But this has not stopped the sector from fighting back. 

As well as pointing out its deficiencies as part of the review process, the industry has launched a petition on the civic activism portal Avaaz, requesting the resignation of Spain’s Minister for Industry, Energy and Tourism, José Manuel Soria. 

The petition also asks for an investigation into the drafting of a previous law that wiped out feed-in tariffs worth €3 billion a year and left Spain's renewable energy sector in tatters. 

This was supposed to have been based on two consultancy reports but it was later found one was never published and the other could not possibly have been used because it was finished way after approval of the new scheme.

There are reasons to think this name-and-shame strategy to create a public outcry over the new self-consumption law may be more effective than a legal battle at quelling the latest proposed measures. 

While the legislation could still take months to make it into the statute books, Soria’s People’s Party (PP) faces a rocky ride in national elections later this year after a drubbing in local and regional polls in May. 

This means the Minister may think twice about pushing ahead with a measure that seems clearly unpopular. With nine days to go until the closure of the public consultation, Avaaz’s petition had already collected more than 147,000 signatures. 

Meanwhile all of Spain’s political parties bar the PP had promised to repeal the law if they come to power at the end of this year. Since coming to power 2011, Soria’s party has repeatedly turned a blind eye to such pressures. 

But with the tide of popular opinion now on the turn, perhaps this time will be different. At any rate, said Holtrop: “If you don’t try, you don’t win .”

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