08:07 Tuesday 26th February 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: Delays in getting approval to build a renewable energy plant in Peterborough could undermine the whole of the City Council’s budget for next year. Plans to build one of the biggest solar and wind energy parks in Europe have been delayed because of an anomaly found during a land survey at Newborough Farm, just north of the city. The Council hope the project will make over £100 million over the next 25 years, but the findings on Newborough Farm, and a further delay on the survey on America Farm, have delayed the whole project, which could derail the Council’s budget. Mike Goodliffe is one of the tenant farmers who could lose land if the plans are approved. He said it’s common knowledge the land has artefacts buried under it. (TAPE)
MIKE GOODLIFFE: These sites are actually listed in English Heritage as .. ancient burial ground.
JOHN DEVINE: If you’ve known about this for years, surely Peterborough City Council did tell you, didn’t they?
MIKE GOODLIFFE: Well you would have thought so. But it all depends on how well they did the surveys. We all know the tariffs are going down, so Peterborough City Council will be getting paid even less than what they were in the first place. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: David Harrington is the independent councillor for Newborough and is working with the Newborough campaign to stop the plans. He told us the fears the campaigners raised when the project was announced are now coming true. (TAPE)
DAVID HARRINGTON: The wheels are starting to come off now the whole project, because they haven’t paid due regard for what the land round here has. To just go and say, right, we’re going to take all this 900 acres and just drive piles through them, and that will satisfy the budget for the next 25 years is absolutely ridiculous. It won’t. And I’m afraid it’s just come to light. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well we did ask Peterborough City Council to come on the show this morning. They say they don’t want to comment any further until the deal gets regulatory approval, but they don’t believe it will affect the project financially through losing out in terms of the tariff they get, which changes very shortly. Here to explain the tariff system for us is Danny Letts, Director at Hereward Solar Solutions. Morning Danny.
DANNY LETTS: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Obviously the tariff is what you get for creating the energy and selling it back to the National Grid, isn’t it?
DANNY LETTS: It’s near enough. On a commercial basis with a bigger system with something like a solar farm, it’s slightly different. It’s called the ROCS system, Renewable Obligations Certification Scheme. And what happens is every megawatt that they produce they will get a certificate, which they can then trade and get paid for that certificate. At the moment, what the rate is is you would get two certificates for every megawatt that you would produce. After April it actually goes down. And if it’s ground mounted it’s actually 1.6 certificates, if you like, to explain it further, what they would actually get paid for the production. So it will obviously go down, and it will beg the financial side of things.
PAUL STAINTON: So as you understand it, if these plans are delayed, and planning doesn’t go through before April, they will get less for the electric they generate.
DANNY LETTS: Yes. It’s not just the planning. It’s actually they would have to have it installed, commissioned. It would have to be all ready by April.
PAUL STAINTON: So it would have to be installed and commissioned by the first April, or the end of April?
DANNY LETTS: The first of April. So roughly five weeks time.
PAUL STAINTON: So by April Fools Day they’d have to have it all sorted.
DANNY LETTS: That’s correct.
PAUL STAINTON: Well they’ve got no chance, have they?
DANNY LETTS: No. Not really, no. That’s why, when they say it won’t affect the financial status of it, I’m not too sure where they’re coming from on that one really.
PAUL STAINTON: Are there any more potential tariff changes? Or is that fixed now?
DANNY LETTS: Well that’s on the ROC scheme. But on the feed-in tariff, which is the more known domestic tariff, there possibly might be a change in May. We’ve already found that we’ve had a lot more interest from customers where they obviously want to get paid that little bit more money if they’re going to do them before May rather than after May. There are changes, and it will happen every three months as well.
PAUL STAINTON: OK Danny, thank you for that. Danny Letts, Director at Hereward Solar Solutions. He’s an expert. He says the Council will get less money unless everything is built and commissioned by the first of April, April Fools Day. So it will affect their budget. Also with us is businessman Mike Green. You might remember him from the programme Secret Millionaire. Morning Mike again.
MIKE GREENE: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: So what do you think of this grand project then?
MIKE GREENE: Paul, it’s just another example of this council jumping in feet first without doing the necessary homework and pre-checks. The archeological thing is, they’ve been told all the way through., They never properly looked at first. But putting that aside, this council just are not experienced in these energy fields. The only experience they have was Freemans. That was a million pounds of money spent, which is costing them £62,000 in interest, and they’ve not made a single penny yet.
PAUL STAINTON: Well Mike it could bring in millions for you and me and cheap electricity over the next 25 years.
MIKE GREENE: So they say, but Freemans was going to make a fortune as well. It hasn’t made a single penny. In fact if you look at cost and interest, we could have kept care homes open with that. That’s a postage stamp compared to what they’re looking at now. And if they can get it so wrong on something as small as Freemans, how big a mistake is it going to be when you start talking about hundreds and hundreds of acres? They just haven’t done their maths. When I looked at these figures there, as someone who’s an angel investor across the country, if this kind of investment was put before me, it would be laughed out. No sane investor would make an investment for the returns they’re talking about Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s a huge gamble, in your experience.
MIKE GREENE: It’s suicide for the Council in my view. 0.82% return on hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s taxpayers’ money. It’s Peterborough workers and people who’ve lived here, it’s their money. They need to stop. And I tell you what, the councillors, the Conservative councillors other than David Saunders who are supporting the scheme, all of the rest took an undeclared whip to support this before. If they vote this through without properly looking at it, I can tell you I’ll never vote Conservative again. They really just need to look at this properly, and not mindlessly support it.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you saying that if this goes slightly wrong we coul.d end up bankrupt in Peterborough?
MIKE GREENE: Small errors in their calculations could absolutely bankrupt Peterborough.
PAUL STAINTON: Now, obviously you’ve made your millions. You’re an expert in business. As you say, you’re an angel investor. The decisions that you see being made at Peterborough City Council, do they seem business-like? Do they seem sane business decisions to you?
MIKE GREENE: Well you know it’s just desperation Paul. It’s just like somebody who gets in debt, and they just start clutching at straws to find a way out. I think it’s time for a change. It’s time for the people who are making these decisions to either stop pause and look properly at what they’re suggesting, or someone else to come in and make more sensible decisions …
PAUL STAINTON: Mike, let’s put you in charge.
MIKE GREENE: .. to run our city, not to run investments they don’t understand.
PAUL STAINTON: Let’s put you in charge Mike for a bit. OK? You’re in charge of Peterborough City Council. You’ve got to make all these cutbacks. You’ve got to make all these savings. Where would you start Mike?
MIKE GREENE: Well partly we’re making cutbacks because of the mistakes they’ve made in the past Paul. But I think the place to start is to look at the services that we need, and to look at where thery’re not going to lose money. Because most of what they’re trying to fix now is where investments have gone .. schemes have gone poorly in the past.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. What would you do then? Where are we talking about here?
MIKE GREENE: I’ve gone into this scheme because I’m supporting local farmers near myself. But what I would say is ..
PAUL STAINTON: Are there things we could do to make money in Peterborough? That’s what I’m trying to get to.
MIKE GREENE: I’ve been here since I was eleven. It’s continued to grow and thrive. It’s greatly connected. There’s lots of reasons why companies would want to come to Peterborough. I think we should focus on bringing industries and trades here, rather than doing some of the things that they’re talking about now, bringing people in from London to give our housing to. They’re just not focusing on the problem at hand. And from my perspective, if they just focused on what we pay them and roped them in to do, they might have a better chance of making it work.