Greenpeace has come down firmly on the side of solar power urging the government to scrap the bill, saying politicians have been cajoled by Spain’s biggest utilities.

There are few places in Europe that get as much sunshine as Spain, a benefit that has propelled the country to the forefront in both tourism and in the development of solar energy. Indeed there is so much electricity gathered from the sun that much of it is now being exported.

But how long for you might wonder as it seems a dark cloud is now gathering over many of the country’s smallest collectors. Just last week Spain announced that it is about to tax sunshine. Many experts agree that the proposal is simply to shore up the country’s heavily subsidized energy industry.

The government has announced that it is to introduce a new tax on electricity generated from solar power or any other renewable on site resources. The tax is the subject of a new bill that is going through parliament, albeit at this stage only as a draft proposal which is currently being reviewed by industry regulator CNE.

Jose Donoso, the managing director of Spain’s solar lobby group UNEF, is outraged, saying “The decree is an attack on market freedom as it aims to prevent people from competing with established utilities. It’s as though they are charging you when you turn off your electric heaters and start to use a wood burning stove.”

This extraordinary move will make self-generated solar power more expensive than electricity taken from the grid, rendering such systems uneconomical.

Information suggests that the new tax will apply to all installations of 100 kW or less. Domestic systems with less than 10kW would have to pay 27 per cent more, according to the lobby group. Payback time for domestic solar systems would be extended to almost 35 years from about 12 years that the solar power industry currently estimates.

The government says that the country currently produces far more power through solar generation than it needs with total capacity exceeding peak demand by up to 60%. This latest move, seemingly aimed at limiting the growth of rooftop solar installations, will knock the industry back years.

The Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE) said the changes in their current form are retroactive, discriminatory and arbitrary and would have a profound impact on the industry.

"AEE considers that if the regulation is passed as it currently stands, the impact would be out of proportion and the sector could suffer a torrent of financial problems, manufacturing plants closures and job destruction," it said in a statement recently.

However the Minister of Industry, José Manuel Soria López, says that the levy is justified because those grid-connected consumers, who produce their own power through a solar installation, can also benefit from the back-up provided by the power system. Jose Donoso, however, suggests that the government is keen to control the growth on solar power because of the impact it is having on the national system. “This is a blatant attack on market freedom,” he said. Consumers already pay grid-access fees that are enough to support the power network.”

Environmental group Greenpeace has come down firmly on the side of solar power urging the government to scrap the bill, saying politicians have been cajoled by Spain’s biggest utilities.

The government could control growth with a quota system limiting installations to as much as 400 megawatts a year, a level that wouldn’t affect the system, according to UNEF. “We’re not asking for subsidies, just that the new fee is scrapped,” Donoso said. “Such a tax doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.”

Don’t think the cunning of Spain’s politicians and capitalists will go unnoticed in other parts of the world either. So if there is a lesson here, it would seem that whenever there is a profit to be made, watch out for the underhanded ability of government and large corporations to work in cahoots, at the inevitable expense of the ordinary man in the street.

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