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Babergh/Mid Suffolk: Solar scheme to tackle fuel poverty and net councils £5million

PUBLISHED: 11:32 03 February 2014 | UPDATED: 11:32 03 February 2014

Babergh councillor Frank Lawrenson, who is behind the authority's solar initiative

Babergh councillor Frank Lawrenson, who is behind the authority's solar initiative

Archant

Thousands of homes in Suffolk could generate their own energy under a new initiative to help tackle fuel poverty and raise revenue for two local authorities.

Councillors at Babergh and Mid Suffolk are pushing for all suitable council-owned homes – around 2,150 in total – to be fitted with solar panels.

The project, which has officer backing and is already under way on sheltered housing in the districts, could net the combined councils around £5million over the next 20 years.

According to the Department for Energy and Climate Change, 20% of all households in Babergh and Mid-Suffolk – around 15,000 – are already in fuel poverty.

Frank Lawrenson, the Conservative councillor behind the initiative, would also like to see an additional ‘rent a roof’ scheme extended to private households on low incomes struggling with fuel bills.

If both projects were to come to fruition and work in tandem, Babergh could be the first council in the UK to become carbon negative while gaining 10% of its income from renewable energy at no cost to the taxpayer.

Both projects would be subject to the Government’s Feed in Tariff Scheme (FITS) which enables organisations or individuals to install small-scale low-carbon electricity generation systems such as solar photovoltaic (PV).

People then register the installation with a licensed electricity supplier who pays a tariff for electricity generated and an export tariff for any surplus electricity exported to the grid.

Mr Lawrenson, from Great Waldingfield near Sudbury, said the council needed to capitalise on the Government scheme while the subsidies were available. Installation work on the council-owned properties could start early summer.

He said: “With fuel poverty becoming an increasing issue, I would like to see our tenants get some of the benefits while guaranteeing the council will recoup its investment and generate an income to benefit all ratepayers.

“Council officers have indicated that around 35% of our housing stock has the right orientation to generate solar electricity.

“Officers are currently drawing up models to ensure that everyone benefits.”

In addition, Mr Lawrenson is pushing for a second scheme which could be rolled out to social landlords, private households and businesses.

He continued: “I would like to see the scheme extended to others in need in the form of a ‘rent a roof’ scheme.

“Under such a scheme the council could pay for the installation and maintenance while receiving the excess and the FITS benefits, and the property could receive free use of the electricity generated.

“It’s a great win-win for all concerned, enabling us to allow as many people as possible to reduce their energy bills.”

Mr Lawrenson said the council could borrow money to fund the scheme with minimal risk because of guaranteed returns under the FITS scheme.

Based on a total of 2,150 homes, officers estimate Babergh would generate close to £3million while Mid Suffolk would net £2million in income.

If the ‘rent a roof’ scheme gets off the ground, rather than selecting a national supplier to install systems, Mr Lawrenson would like to see work given to local contractors as a means of further boosting Suffolk’s economy.

He added: “We are grateful for the council officers’ help in getting the scheme this far and we will be pushing for them to prioritise the project.”

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