Multi-million pound solar panel scheme for Peterborough faces uncertain future

Marco Cereste launches the solar panel scheme at Clarence Road EMN-150318-171913009

Marco Cereste launches the solar panel scheme at Clarence Road EMN-150318-171913009

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A multi-million pound solar panel scheme for Peterborough has an uncertain future due to a government proposal to heavily reduce subsidies.

The pioneering scheme to put solar panels on residents’ homes was expected to benefit property owners with around £200 of free energy every year and boost Peterborough City Council’s coffers by £1 million over 20 years.

The scheme - the first of its kind in the country - was agreed by the council and Empower Community late last year and it was thought that eventually solar panels could be installed on the roof of every house in the city.

However, the government has announced that it is looking to cut subsidies available for electricity generated from rooftop solar panels by nearly 90 per cent.

The proposed cut is “far greater” than what the council expected and leaves it uncertain as to how its scheme will be impacted.

Currently, the council is advertising a pilot scheme on its website which residents living in Gladstone, Millfield and New England can sign up for.

The website adds that an evaluation of the electricity network, both Peterborough-wide and in the pilot area, is currently being conducted, but once complete then residents may be eligible to start receiving the panels.

A sharp reduction in government subsidies would be a further setback to the council after it was forced to scrap plans for three renewable energy parks harnessing wind and solar power on farmland.

The projects were all finally shelved in the past year - despite the council having already spent more than £3 million on them - after the government announced that support for large scale solar projects would be scrapped.

The Empower scheme delivers solar panels on private properties in Peterborough with no cost to the residents.

Under the terms of agreements for the scheme to begin, the council was to spend £4.45 million in the short-term until a long-term funder was appointed.

Communities are also set to benefit, as some of the money generated will be shared equally between a local community fund and the council.

The council previously stated that if 1,500 properties signed up for the initial pilot scheme it could generate £1 million each for the community and the council over the 20 year project.

The scheme was unveiled last year by the then council leader, Marco Cereste, who said at the time: “The partnership that we want to enter into with Empower Community is a win/win for our residents, the council and the wider city.

“It also bolsters our ever growing environmental credentials by reducing the carbon footprint of our residents and the city as a whole.”

Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson, a vocal critic of the energy park projects on farmland, also offered his support for the scheme when it was announced.

The subsidy reduction could come into force by as soon as January next year but existing installations would not be affected by the proposed changes.

A consultation into the subsidy cut is being held by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) until October 23.

A council spokesman said: “These proposed cuts to solar subsidies by DECC are far greater than had been rumoured.

“It’s clear that if these cuts are implemented it will have an impact on the Empower scheme from January 2016.

“Given the announcement has just be made, and consultation launched, it’s too early to say the full effect the proposed subsidy cuts will have on the scheme but we will be assessing this over the coming months.”

Related: Solar panel proposals for Peterborough homes