Dragons’ Den solar power business goes bust

Entrepreneur who won £120,000 investment from TV show forced into administration by cuts in Feed-in Tariff

A “green” energy installer who won £120,000 backing from Theo Paphitis on the Dragons’ Den TV programme last year has seen his firm put into administration and his 15 staff made redundant.

Chris Hopkins, also a member of the government’s Green Construction Board, partly blames cuts in the feed-in tariff (FiT) subsidy regime for wrecking his business, Ploughcroft Business Services.

“A second reduction in the feed-in tariff in August finally killed it. It was probably 50/50, between that and my decision to put all my eggs into one solar basket,” said the 42-year-old entrepreneur from Brighouse, Yorkshire.

Hopkins also believes that winning the backing from Dragons’ Den also may not have helped because it meant his high profile led to an explosion in the volume of his business.

“We were used to turning over more around £2m a year and suddenly it went up to £10m. I had to take on all kinds of new staff and computers to handle this and then business suddenly dropped off when the solar subsidy was cut [for the first time] on March 3,” he said.

Hopkins was talking from a rooftop on a mobile phone, which has become his new work environment. He has reconstituted the commercial operation as Ploughcroft Ltd and is working up a ladder with a couple of others fixing houses.

It is something of a change for a man who also received the Institute of Directors’ Yorkshire and Humber Award for entrepreneur of the year the and helped establish a series of innovative training schemes for solar installations.

Hopkins said before the government started to promote the use of solar power, he had been struggling as an ordinary roofer feeling the impact of recession and a construction industry slowdown.

The decision announced 12 months ago by the government to reduce the FiT by March 2012 led to a surge in orders followed by the sudden fall-off over the summer.

Jeremy Leggett, founder of the much larger Solarcentury panel supply business, said the government bore a huge responsibility for destroying large parts of the photovoltaic sector. “We are doing OK but its is quite clear that good businesses are going under because they have been ambushed by sudden and deep tariff cuts. I have no doubt that incumbent [fossil fuel] companies have successfully lobbied to derail the third [low carbon] industrial revolution.”

Governments across Europe have cut subsidies to solar power on the grounds that equipment prices have plummeted as Chinese and other low cost Asian producers have moved into western markets.

But the debt crisis has also meant that ministers in many countries have been looking at cutting subsidies to save cash.

Terry Macalister

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