Solar panels plan backed

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A COUNCIL will push ahead with plans to install solar panels on its buildings despite controversial changes which mean it will initially cost money rather than generate income.

Hartlepool Borough Council had calculated that it could generate £36,000 a year in income by installing the photo-voltaic (PV) panels under the original proposal.

In June the full council agreed to borrow £646,000 to fund the installations and to tap into the government’s “feed-in tariff” that rewards organisations which generate their own renewable electricity.

But controversial changes mean it will now actually cost the council an initial £6,000 next year and a total of £44,000 over the 25-year lifetime of the scheme.

Despite that, senior councillors have agreed to go ahead to slash carbon emissions by 55 tonnes a year, save money in the future and because staff had already been trained up.

At a recent cabinet meeting, councillors also approved plans for the council to offer an installation service.

Members heard that some panels had already been fitted to Bryan Hanson House using funds from elsewhere while panels have also been fitted to the Rocket House. Planning applications would be submitted for the other buildings.

Mayor Stuart Drummond outlined some of the risks facing the council.

Mayor Drummond said: “The business case does not look as attractive second time round.

“It will cost us in the short term and the pay back will be a lot lower, but energy prices will only go one way.”

Labour councillor Pamela Hargreaves said: “I am a supporter and we should put ourselves at the forefront of this.

“It is the right thing to do and I am 100 per cent supporter of it.”

Independent councillor Cath Hill said: “We have to look at the bigger picture and the effect on the planet.

“I don’t think that we have a choice.”

Mayor Drummond added that the financial side would also be a benefit in the future.

Meanwhile, Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said: “This is an area of growth for this country and we have to get in now.

“We should pay the money and go for it.”

Labour councillor Peter Jackson said the staff had been trained up which puts the local authority in a good position while his party colleagues Chris Simmons and Ged Hall also spoke in favour.

Independent councillor Hilary Thompson added: “It is green and we should go ahead with it.”

On October 31, the government announced an early review of the FiT scheme and launched a consultation.

The proposals mean panels installed, connected and registered on or after today will receive the current higher level of FiT until April 2012 at which point the lower proposed FiT will apply for the rest of the scheme.

Those registered before December 11 will qualify for the higher tariff for the full 25-year period.

The council installations will not be in place by today and will be subject to the lower rates of income.