Saturday, February 11, 2012

Solar Park £10m To Be Reinvested Elsewhere

Cornwall Council wants to reinvest £10 million which was left over when its solar park was put “on ice” but insists the renewable energy scheme will go ahead before long.

The Government announcement of a scaling back of the lucrative Feed-in Tariff (FiT) last year halted the authority’s plans for an array of solar panels on land near Newquay Cornwall Airport, the first of its kind in the country.

The council said in September it would switch the £15 million intended for the Kernow Solar Park into more than 300 smaller projects – including cash-generating solar panels on council-owned buildings and schools.

But the halving of the FiT – payments for each unit of electricity supplied to the national grid – which took effect in December reduced the viability of many schemes and has meant just £5 million has been taken up.

An appeal court judgment on the Government’s FiT cut has yet to be made public. The council’s cabinet will consider a report tomorrow urging the unspent cash be channelled into more large-scale schemes, which “will not be without risk”.

Julian German, cabinet member for climate change, said he wanted to be able to “make a move” on schemes while the solar park was “on ice” for “the next two years”.

“We think that in the not too distant future, with electricity prices going up and costs coming down, that the business case for the solar park will stack up irrespective of the FiT,” he added.

“We are extremely frustrated at the Government’s position – we have only been able to deliver a fraction of our resource (for the solar park) so we want the flexibility to use it on any renewables so long as the business case stacks up, including solar parks without permission.”

The hard-hitting report to cabinet blames the Government’s “erratic” approach to subsidising solar energy schemes for the funding switch.

Officials said the council had proved it could “deliver in the face of adversity” by installing 1.3 megawatts (MW) of solar panels across 52 sites within just a few weeks of the slashing of subsidies. This has seen the creation of around one quarter of the capacity of the proposed solar park or 1.2 per cent of the council’s total carbon footprint.

But cabinet members are being warned that the council was too slow to react to sudden changes in the industry compared to the private sector.

“The council must be able to respond very rapidly if it wishes to continue to demonstrate leadership in this competitive sector,” the report added.

Merlin Hyman, chief executive at Regen SW, agreed that schemes such as the Cornish solar park were still viable in the future, describing the delays as a “painful blip in the long-term growth of solar energy”.

He added: “The Government changed the rules and that has caused everyone to take stock. We will still see solar making a comeback – the council’s thinking reflects that – it is public money and they have got to be careful how they invest it.”


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