Solar panels installed on a roof in Marbella; the new tax will make the option of generating renewable energy less viable.
A steadily growing number of households and businesses across southern Spain are permanently removing their solar panels, according to a photovoltaic specialist who has asked not to be named.
The experienced engineer, who works for one of the region’s biggest suppliers of solar panels, tells this newspaper that he, and indeed most of his colleagues in the renewable energy sector, attributes this “upward trend” entirely to a new government proposal of what he says amounts to “taxing the sun”.
This summer, Madrid announced plans to introduce an energy ‘support levy’ because production capacity is exceeding demand by more than 60 per cent, which has left the government in debt to large power producers to the tune of an estimated 26 billion euros.
In effect, income from Spain’s traditional energy systems has fallen sharply, but the grid maintenance costs remain the same.
Under the proposals those with solar panels would pay a support fee for the panel, as well as the access fee paid by everyone who uses electricity from the national grid. The support fee, say some experts, could be 0.068 euros per kWh, although this is expected to vary.
Only those who live in remote locations, far away from the mains supply, would escape the levy. Everyone else could face fines of between two and 30 million euros, should they fail to connect their panels to the conventional grid so they can be actively monitored.
Speaking of the possible reforms this week, the photovoltaic engineer comments to SUR in English: “The levy makes it deliberately [financially] prohibitive to produce your own electricity through solar panels. And these enormous fines - of up to 30 million euros - are there to frighten consumers into submission. Who could afford to be fined 30 million euros?”
Arguing the government’s case for this controversial new tax is Secretary of State for Energy, Alberto Nadal, who told reporters recently: “If I produce my own energy, but am connected to the grid, having the backup in case my production fails, I have to contribute to the cost of the entire system.”
Despite Madrid’s arguments, plans for a nationwide solar tax have attracted widespread condemnation from expected and not-so-expected quarters.
“Strange things are happening in Spain. This is one of them,” Jaume Serrasolses of Servicios Energéticos Básicos Autónomos (SEBA), an organisation promoting the use of solar energy, recently told the BBC.
“We will be the only country in the world charging for the use of the sun.”
In addition, environmentalists insist that the step will push Spain further away from achieving its obligations, which all European countries have, to slash its reliance on fossil fuels and reach targets for renewable energies by 2020.
Meanwhile, the country’s energy regulator, Comisión Nacional de Energía, has declared that it finds the proposals potentially “discriminatory” and that they [the reforms] would prioritise “short term economic sustainability” over longer and middle term “economic efficiency.”
The plans have also been universally slammed by consumers contacted by this newspaper.
Benalmádena resident Frank Meijer, who two years ago invested in domestic solar panels to reduce his energy bills, asserts: “I’m intending to have my panels removed as, according to my calculations, it will no longer make sense to keep them, due to the running costs and possible fines.
“Yes, I’m very annoyed about this as they weren’t cheap to install and especially because the Spanish government had for many years, up until now, been promoting and subsidising the use of solar energy. They’ve suddenly done a 180-degree turn on the issue, as they now need to boost their coffers.
“It’s almost as if they’ve run out of ideas of what else they can tax and so therefore have settled on taxing the sun itself. It’s disgraceful.”
In a similar vein, solar energy consumer Abbi Howell, who lives in Campo de Mijas, says: “People in Spain have been living, and are living through still, one of the worst economic crises in living memory. The government, which is largely responsible for this crisis, should be continuing to allow its citizens to make savings wherever they can, such as by using solar power to generate electricity. The only thing we get for free here is the country’s abundance of sunshine - and now even that is set to go!”
Most political and energy industry commentators predict that the government’s plans will almost certainly pass through the Spanish parliament. Should this happen, it is likely, according to experts, that other cash-strapped countries, such as Italy and Greece, would follow Spain’s example.