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UK Solar Innovation Boycott Update: Appeal to the Solar Trade Association to Reinstate us as Members.

Filed under: Latest News

BANG! Shoot the Messenger.

The poor old Solar Trade Association in UK have unfortunately landed themselves in a hot pickle jar. First they let some influential members get away with boycotting Solartwin all over the place. Then they repeatedly ignored our formal requests that those naughty big members should be required to behave properly. They even unlawfully fined us £1000 for contacting the Office of Fair Trading. We were in no mood to be thuggishly shoved off the market by the bigboys. So we published our concerns and sent the STA a bill. In retaliation, the STA chucked us out (again). Whoops! This now puts them in technical breach of what the Office of Fair Trading, which stresses legal obligations upon trade bodies to deliver fair competition.

The moral of the story is: don’t innovate in UK plc, at least not in the Bermuda Triangle: ie the secretive triple overlap between (a) state grant funded stuff (b) the energy industry (c) the construction industry.

Here is our appeal for an end to the STA membership boycott. Enjoy!

Many thanks to everyone who has given support so far!

Appeal to the Solar Trade Association Board for reinstatement of membership.

By Solar Twin Ltd. 21 May 2012 for appeal hearing on 28 May 2012.

The STA eventually stated only two “overriding concerns”. We now offer our response.

1 Damage. We continue to ask the STA to take responsibility for damage. We have no intention of withdrawing one invoice in respect of damage to our business and its reputation, exclusion from STA membership, loss of sales leads, lack of regulatory representation, regulatory blockages, false performance claims for mains pumped solar, cost of us taking expert advice, costs of tax investigation triggered by our high costs of taking expert advice, cost of administering such problems, and related consequential losses, during the past 13 years. We still hold this position because the damage to our business is, unfortunately, real. Therefore the damage needs to be addressed and not repudiated. Of course we regret that any settlement may impact negatively on the STA’s finances. Our invoice is not intended to damage the STA, but to repair the extensive damage that has been caused to us. The STA board should have considered this matter properly many years ago, when some members embarked on the boycott. In 2012, at a “shoot the messenger” disciplinary is far too late!

We reiterate our offer to consider moving further on this damages issue, such as to some form of mediation.

2 Publications. Our repeated offer to edit and correct published material, if it were shown to require either, has been unreasonably ignored by the STA. We did not delete, as we were ordered to do so, the two videos. Instead we offered to correct or update them if any parts of them were shown to be incorrect or out of date. Unfortunately no response at all to our reasonable offer has been forthcoming from the STA. These two videos demonstrate with absolute certainly that certain leading STA members have behaved unacceptably. Apparently they have even enjoyed impunity while doing so. Surely a more reasonable response (far more reasonable than “shoot the messenger’), would have been to discipline the recalcitrants involved, rather than expel us. The very same offer, to correct or update was again made regarding comments on twitter. Unfortunately we still await point by point responses.

We reiterate our offer to consider moving further on this publications issue, such as to some form of mediation.

Of course we regret asking the STA to pick up the bill for damaging us, but, sadly, the STA are actually liable. The point is that this damage should never have happened: but past governance of the STA has been too self-serving. Now needs to be tightened. As for publication, we have only raised concerns publicly after numerous internal means, such as our proposed  nine “clean up” motions to the STA AGM last year, were repeatedly set aside. We then had to raise matters publicly because our business survival was at stake. We respectfully ask the new STA board to be more fair in their analysis and their conclusions.


Office of Fair Trading context.

As for the regulatory context of this exclusion, it not only violates what the OFT writes, but we believe it is unlawful. In 2011, in the “Off Grid Energy Market Study” the OFT stated [see para 6.49 here]:

“Membership of trade bodies can be instrumental in a company being able to access consumers (such as those wishing to apply for FIT and RHI funding).  Therefore industry bodies play an important role in facilitating competition and have an obligation to ensure that firms are treated without bias.”

The STA are the dominant trade body in the UK solar thermal industry. As an innovator, we particularly need to stay up to date and be positively engaged, for example, in the process of updating and widening guidance or regulations. But engagement is still being  unreasonably denied. The STA are recognised by the UK government as a key point of contact for solar thermal matters. For example, on 31 May 2012, the STA host a meeting with DECC which, for a full hour, specifically covers the domestic RHI (a grant funding programme of hundreds of millions of pounds, and one which was specifically mentioned by the OFT). Our formal exclusion (authorised by STA’s Chief Executive) from this forthcoming meeting, even though we are also members of the co-hosts, the REA, demonstrates how the STA’s continued unlawful exclusion and boycott remains significantly anticompetitive in impact.

Conclusion.

This is all really about competition. There are now only 2 remaining issues of “overriding concern” remaining out of the STA’s original numerous reasons for expelling us, some of which were patently nonsensical, such as our being ordered to withdraw a document in which we carefully asked the STA to clean up – when we had actually been asked to write it.

The Solar Trade Association, because it is the main solar thermal trade body in UK, has a particularly strong obligation under UK competition law to ensure that our company, including its innovative product, its people, and its innovative business model, are treated without bias. Unfortunately some leading members of the STA have played an important role in restricting, rather than facilitating competition, thereby limiting the market for our product in numerous serious ways, ways which we have already described in detail to the STA (in the document which we were even unreasonably expected to withdraw). Our membership of the STA is instrumental to our being able to access consumers, such as those wishing to apply for RHI funding. All boycott of our company and our obviously disruptive innovation must end. All damage must be unpicked, with urgency and sincerity.

Please let us back in. Further delays can only worsen matters. We respectfully ask STA’s new board to make a more prudent decision for the STA: to end the boycott, to restore our membership, to agree to mediation, to apologise for and remedy past actions and inactions, to engage constructively with us and to liaise with the OFT.

Feel free to lobby the STA asking them to “Stop the boycott of Solartwin!”. Their email contact is enquiries@solar-trade.org.uk


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