Businessman hits out at solar energy cuts

Robert Lindsay
Robert Lindsay
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A GOVERNMENT decision to cut the subsidy on solar energy by more than half has angered local businesses and left some Suffolk projects in the dark about their future.

On Monday, the Government brought forward plans to reduce the feed-in tariff paid to households and communities who produce their own electricity from solar power.

The reduction begins in April 2012 but will affect all projects installed after December 12, leaving an uncertain future for many council-led initiatives and community projects.

Fast-growing solar businesses have hit out at the decision, calling it ‘pure madness’.

Solar Essence Ltd, based in Thetford, has created 90 jobs in the last two years, fitting solar panels to more than 2,000 buildings. Nationally, the industry has grown rapidly, kick-started by the Government tariff incentive.

The company has called on south-west Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss to intervene.

Phil Wittam, operations director for Solar Essence Ltd, said: “To throw workers in a new, high-tech, environmentally sustainable industry out of work at a time like this would be pure madness.”

Council-led plans to install solar panels on public buildings may also be affected by the tariff change.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council had earmarked more than £600,000 for solar roof panels to be fitted to Bury St Edmunds buildings, including West Suffolk House, Nowton Park Visitor Centre and Abbeycroft Leisure Centre.

A St Edmundsbury Borough Council spokeswoman said: “We are looking at the implications of this announcement.”

Suffolk County Council also had county-wide solar panel plans in the pipeline.

A spokeswoman said: “The reduced incentive payments may impact on existing projects to install photovoltaic cells on schools and other council buildings, but we are hopeful that most projects will remain financially viable.”

The announcement has brought an end to one community project hoping to become more sustainable.

The Bildeston Area Renewable Energy Group (Bare) can now no longer move forward with plans to install photovoltaic panels on the roof of the village hall.

The project could have led to electricity savings of up to £2,000 a year.

Robert Lindsay, chairman of Bare, said that they had already invested £800 in establishing the group and had submitted a planning application.

Mr Lindsay said the announcement was a ‘blow’ for the project and others across the county.

Bare planned to install 80 panels at a cost of £50,000 to be funded by local investors who would then receive returns from the tariff which has now been cut from 37.8p per kW hour to 16.8p per kW hour.

Mr Lindsay said: “Asking local people to invest, so they would get the tariff and the village hall would get cheap electricity, is no longer viable because they have cut the tariff. It brings down the returns for investors from seven percent to four per cent.

“We can’t persuade people to put the money in it it’s not going to be a worthwhile investment.”