Brighton and Hove council leader Bill Randall has criticised cuts being proposed by the government to a popular and effective solar power scheme.
Councillor Randall said that the cuts to the feed-in tariff scheme would hurt some of the most vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove and hit the council’s finances too.
His criticisms were echoed by the managing director of a company that has taken on staff to cope with demand generated by the scheme.
News of the cuts emerged as Brighton and Hove City Council prepares to fit solar or – photovoltaic (PV) – panels on 40 council-owned buildings, including offices, schools and car parks.
It has budgeted £2.6 million for the installation programme.
The council also hopes to fit solar panels to council-owned blocks of flats, cutting electricity bills for tenants and reducing the council’s carbon footprint.
Councillor Randall set out his concerns after the premature release of government proposals to cut the feed-in tariff scheme rates.
The rate is currently 43.3p for flats and houses, guaranteed and linked to inflation for 25 years.
But it looks likely to be cut to 21p, according to a document posted online – and quickly taken down again – by the Energy Saving Trust.
The scheme also pays an extra 3p for each surplus kilowatt hour fed into the national grid.
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is due to make a statement in the House of Commons on Monday (31 October) when he is expected to confirm the cut.
He is thought to believe that the increasing take-up of solar power means that the government no longer needs to provide as much help.
He is also thought to be concerned at the growing cost of encouraging people, companies and councils to fit solar panels to their homes and buildings.
Councillor Randall said: “The government plans, if true, are incredibly unhelpful and will seriously damage the business case for Brighton and Hove City Council’s ambitious solar energy programme on public buildings and council houses.
“A tariff reduction of this size threatens our plans to roll out eco-friendly energy that will help provide cheaper heating and electricity for the city’s most vulnerable at a time of rising energy costs.
“We were looking to this programme to partly offset government cuts to our budget, while also reducing our carbon footprint, tackling fuel poverty and creating local jobs.”
The Hove-based managing director of South Downs Solar, Michael Yeoman, shared Councillor Randall’s concerns.
Mr Yeoman said: “It’s a crazy situation that we find ourselves in. It’s going to cause hardship.”
He accepted that Chris Huhne’s comments about the scheme being unsustainable were valid but said that there were other ways to deal with it.
He pointed out that the government had underspent money set aside to promote wind power and indicated that, in the cirumstances, it made sense to look at renewable energy as a whole.
He said: “We have a fledgeling industry and it’s leading the way out of recession.
“At South Downs Solar we have two apprentices we’ve just taken on and who are about to start. We have families relying on this investment.”
Mr Yeoman critisised the timing and the way that civil servants at the Department for Energy and Climate Change had kept the industry in limbo.
He added: “I am not sure how the council will be able to fulfil it’s solar PV contracts in these timeframes.”
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