Reprimand on the way to four top ministers in solar panel saga

Refusal to respond to questions from national auditor about much-maligned solar panel law making waves in parliament

Four top ministers, including PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S), can look forward to being officially reprimanded by parliament for sending a joint letter to the speaker of the parliament, Mogens Lykketoft (S), saying that they will not answer questions form the national audit office, Rigsrevisionen about issues surrounding the mistake and loophole-ridden solar panel legislation that parliament wrangled over last summer.

The finance minister, Bjarne Corydon (S), the economy minister, Margrethe Vestager (R), and the social affairs minister, Annette Vilhelmsen (SF), signed the letter along with Thorning-Schmidt. All four are now likely to earn an official reprimand.

The questions in the case focused on the climate, buildings and energy minister, Martin Lidegaard (R), and laws his ministry created to promote solar energy by providing generous incentives for selling surplus energy back to the grid.

Late last year, the Climate Ministry realised that the dropping price of solar panels, combined with the lucrative sell-back scheme, resulted in the number of solar panel installations rising more than ten-fold, from 5,000 at the start of the year to 70,000 by the year’s end.

READ MORE: Solar panel scandal could cost billions

The ministry then passed a law to limit the number of solar installations. The law, however, turned out to have a number of loopholes, including one that allowed large subsidised installations to be placed in agricultural fields. Lidegaard closed the loophole earlier this year, but he received an official reprimand after Berlingske newspaper exposed that he had been informed of the loophole before the law was passed.

The saga continued when national energy regulators Energistyrelsen admitted it had failed to pass on information to Lidegaard about the effect of a second loophole allowing businesses to place large solar installations on the roofs of their buildings. 

Consensus on reprimand
A majority of the right-wing parties, along with far-left party Enhedslisten (EL), said that parliament should reprimand the four ministers and that Lykketoft should reject their refusal to answer questions about the solar panel law.

Lykketoft said he will wait for a decision from parliament’s legal authority before making a decision, but Bertel Haarder (V), parliament’s deputy chairman, told Politiken newspaper that the letter should be rejected and that parliament should send a clear signal to the government that it cannot determine what the national audit office choosing to investigate.

“Parliament should take up the matter,” Haarder said. “There are at least five parties that will recommend that the government be reprimanded for interfering with the work of the national audit office; this sort of letter is unheard of.”

EL spokesperson Per Clausen also said that the ministers had no business impeding the investigation.

“If the government has a problem with the national audit office they should take it up with them,” Clausen told Politiken.

Corydon said that the ministers were within their rights to refuse to respond to questioning.

“If standards are going to be set that evaluate all of the work done before a minister submits a bill to parliament, that they then have every opportunity to examine and reject, you are creating a new step in the way we make laws in Denmark,” Corydon told Politiken.