Peterborough City Council has unveiled plans to power ahead with a new solar panels venture to generate an income for the cash-strapped local authority just weeks after dropping a simiar eco venture that had cost more than £3million, reports Paul Grinnell.
Peterborough City Council is about to embark on a costly new bid to harness solar power to provide energy and a multi-million pound income stream for Peterborough.
Senior councillors are expected to give the green light on Monday to plans that could eventually see solar panels installed on the roof of every house in the city.
But the move comes just months after a vigorous campaign of opposition forced the local authority to drop a £200 million venture to install hundreds of solar panels on 900 acres of farmland at Newborough and Thorney.
The aim was to create an energy park that would provide electricity for the city and generate an income for cash-strapped Peterborough City Council of about £25 million over the venture’s lifetime.
But the initial costs of obtaining legal and financial advice and carrying out archaeological surveys spiralled to more than £3 million as protesters forced a succession of delays. Eventually, the proposals were sidelined to be reviewed by working groups of councillors and then finally abandoned.
But it is not the only solar panel venture that has been dogged by problems.
The council is still embroiled in a dispute with Enterprise Managed Services Ltd (EMS) to recover £1.3 million after solar panels were installed on the roof of the former Freeman’s factory, in Ivatt Way, Peterborough, but failed to generate the electricity agreed,
Despite these setbacks, council leader Cllr Marco Cereste is confident the new venture will be a success.
He said: “Our new partnership with Empower Community could potentially offer every residential home owner in the city the chance to benefit financially and environmentally from the benefits of solar energy.
“In addition, there will be a benefit for the wider community through the community fund, and the money the council will generate over the life of the scheme which could be used to protect frontline services.”
Cabinet members will be asked to approve the council enter into partnership with social enterprise Empower Community Management, to deliver solar panels on private properties in the city.
If the move is agreed, it will be the first scheme of its kind in the country.
Under the scheme, property owners would benefit from about £200 worth of free energy each year generated by the solar panels and a one-off payment of £100 every five years for their participation in the scheme.
There would not be any costs to the owner of the property.
A community fund will be established out of a percentage of the money the scheme generates.
The council, which currently has a £25 million deficit, estimates that on an assumed take-up of 1,500 properties, the fund could total around £1 million over the 20 years of the scheme.
In addition, the council would also expect to generate about £1 million during the same period.
The council will provide £4.45 millon in the short-term to begin rolling out the scheme until a long-term funder is appointed.
Cll Cereste added: “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.
“Currently, having solar panels on residential properties tends to be restricted to those who can afford them, people who are approached by companies who install
solar panels for free and
those who live in social housing.
He added: “Our grant from government has been reduced by £40 million since 2010 and this trend sees no sign of slowing pace. We have got to look at new and innovative ways of working to attract investment.”
Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson, who opposed the energy park project, said: “I
don’t think this venture is doomed to fail. I think it can work and could potentially bring in the income the council expects and that will help offset the reduction in its funding.
“It is a shame the council didn’t listen when we were suggesting this type of project earlier. The scheme would already be up and running.
“I’ve always supported the council’s renewable energy aspiration but it was never viable to build on prime agricultural land.”
Solar panels timeline
The new £4.5 million rooftop panels venture will be trialled in the areas of the city which currently form part of the Green Deal Community Fund.
These are Bourges Boulevard, Clarence Road, Cromwell Road, Crown Street, Dogsthorpe Road, Eastfield Road, Gladstone Street, Harris Street, Lincoln Road and St Paul’s Road.
If the scheme is successful in these areas, then it will be rolled out to the remainder of the city.
In September 2012, the vision to create an energy self-sufficient Peterborough creating and delivering all the power needed by homes and businesses in 20 years was unveiled.
It was claimed the renewable energy parks would generate between 40 megawatts and 106 megawatts with installation costs varying from £198 million to £288.9 million.
Two years after the ambitious project was unveiled, the venture was the subject of two Freedom of Information requests about its costs, a debate in Westminster Hall at the House of Commons, well known historians stepped in to warn of damage to historical artefacts under the three sites and ministers have warned about the use of farmland for such projects.
Hundreds of people turned out in June for a meeting of the council’s planning committee to decide if an application for the first solar farm at Morris Fen at Thorney should go ahead.
The matter was put on hold after a last minute letter from English Heritage demanding further archaeological work.
In November 2013, Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson brought the scheme to the attention of MPs at Westminster Hall, claiming the energy park would be the largest of its type in Europe and that it would be “visible from space”.
- A decision about the partnership will be made at a Peterborough City Council Cabinet meeting at Peterborough Town Hall on Monday, 15 December, read update here.