Waiting game over energy plan

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COUNCILLORS have delayed joining a new energy scheme aimed at reducing bills and CO2 emissions until more is known about how it will work.

The North-East Retrofit Project aims to make houses more fuel efficient by installing solar panels on the roofs of 15,000 properties across the region.

Hartlepool councillors have welcomed the scheme but opted to delay joining it. Newcastle City Council is leading the project, aimed at privately owned and social rented houses, and all the other North-East councils have been invited to join.

Developing the project, which is not expected to make a profit for councils, is set to cost £1.5m and a £1.1m bid for European funding has been submitted.

Newcastle City Council is contributing £100,000 and the councils that join have been asked to pay £50,000 each towards the set up costs.

The scheme relies heavily on emerging Government policy around the Green Deal, which would enable private firms to offer consumers energy efficiency improvements to their properties at no upfront cost. Instead the firms would recoup payments through a charge on the energy bill.

Joining the project after the initial phase would cost the council a joining fee depending on the number of houses. But officers recommended to delay joining.

A report said: “The scheme appears to be very risky because of the complexity of the model, the assumptions it relies upon and the lack of detail known about the Government’s Green Deal.

“The council cannot afford to take excessive risks with its finances in the current climate, therefore it seems wise to consider joining at a later date when the details have been worked through and the scheme can be seen to be operating successfully.”

Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “This is emerging policy, but if it is workable then should we not be in it at the start?”

Dave Stubbs, the director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, said: “We are not losing anything by waiting six months.”