Peterborough Council Withholds Data On Solar Panel Income As MEP Joins Critics

he_who_must_not_be_named07:20 Friday 1st February 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: An East of England MEP has got himself embroiled in the solar farm row in Peterborough. He’s going to meet with local councillors and activists over plans to build this farm later. UKIP’s Stuart Agnew will meet activists as consultation closes on proposals for this 900 acre site. Peterborough City Council says the farm, which will be built on agricultural land, could make £100 million for taxpayers. But Stuart Agnew the MEP says the proposal is heavily reliant on subsidies. (TAPE)
STUART AGNEW: It is the wrong way to produce energy. The only way you can produce energy like that is through massive subsidy. And this subsidy is being paid for not just by taxpayers but by the man in the street, electricity consumer, who has to pay more for his electricity because of these things. And the policy from the European Union is that 20% of all energy must be produced by renewable systems. And we have chosen in this country to convert that 20% of all energy into 30% of electricity. Has to be done because we’re in the European Union. I think not only is it a bad way to produce our energy, after all it’s only available during the day. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well the UKIP MEP goes on to say we should be looking at developing shale gas rather than solar energy.(TAPE)
STUART AGNEW: We have got something in this country called shale gas. This has been discovered recently, and it’s as big a bonus to us as the discovery of oil in the North Sea was in the late ’60s early 70s. We should be developing this. There is no reason why we can’t use our coal. Power stations now are much cleaner. I am totally against the idea that carbon dioxide changes the weather, and this is what this is all about. Carbon dioxide. I’m a farmer. I need carbon dioxide to make my crops grow. I don’t see it as a poison. I see it as an essential gas. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s Stuart Agnew, MEP for the Eastern Region. Mike Fletcher is an Independent ward councillor for South Bretton. Morning Mike.
MIKE FLETCHER: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Well, this had better work, hadn’t it? Because if the solar farm doesn’t work, what’s going to happen? Because Peterborough City Council’s budget is built on it, isn’t it?
MIKE FLETCHER: It would appear so. But nobody’s produced any hard and fast figures yet. And as a result of that I asked some time ago what is the income from the Freeemans warehouse project.
PAUL STAINTON: Which is where they were supposed to put solar panels on a massive site.
MIKE FLETCHER: Exactly. Well it’s been up and running for over a year now, and so I asked what it cost, and what the income is from it. It cost about £1 million. It costs £62,000 per annum to service that debt. And when I asked what is the income from it, I can’t get a reply. They say it’s “on legal advice”. Legal advice mind you! A councillor, elected Member, cannot be told what is the income from that little scheme.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it not our money? Is it not public money?
MIKE FLETCHER: Of course it’s public money, and everybody’s got a right to know. We were told it was going to bring in thousands of pounds a year for the Council. But I’d put money on it that it’s not bringing in anything.
PAUL STAINTON: So Freemans .. we’ll just recap for people in the South of the county .. it’s a massive site, isn’t it? Something like 20 football pitches, isn’t it?
MIKE FLETCHER: Something like that. Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: They were going to put solar panels on all of it. They didn’t, did they?
MIKE FLETCHER: That’s right. Because the feed-in tariff went down, so they got frightened. But that feed-in tariff is more or less still prevalent today and we haven’t got the Newborough things in yet. I’m not aware that there’s any variable tariffs, so if it doesn’t pay on Freemans, will it pay at Newborough? And the figures we’ve got .. in fact I’ve got some figures here that have been .. I acquired another way, and everything’s against all these figures that have been produced. It says “indicative” “indicative” “contingent” . Well indicative is suggesting, guesswork. Let’s have some hard and fast figures. They’ve spent thousands of pounds on consultants producing these figures. And yet I’ll bet none of them would indemnify the Council if they’ve got the figures wrong.
PAUL STAINTON: There may be commercial sensitivity here though might there not, to why they’ve not given you the figures for how much it’s made on the Freemans site?
MIKE FLETCHER: What on earth is commercial sensitivities? It just doesn’t make sense. Who’s going to take advantage of it? We tell the public, oh, we’ve made so many thousand pounds this year. Good lads! Well done! Let’s have another one. No they can’t.
PAUL STAINTON: What happens then if they’ve not been making a lot of money from Freemans? Let’s presume for a little while. And that the solar farm that they’re planning for this farmland in Newborough doesn’t make the money they think. What happens then do you think in the future, if we don’t make that money?
MIKE FLETCHER: The cost of it all comes down onto the taxpayer. And your taxes will go up to counteract the shortfall. Bound to.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Because the budget does factor in all the money coming from the solar farm in the next few years, doesn’t it?
MIKE FLETCHER: So I’m told. Yes. Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: Have you learned any more about the plans for this solar farm?
MIKE FLETCHER: No, no. Nothing at all. (THEY LAUGH) You know, it’s just a closed shop. And from what I understand, this scheme is down to one man, and one or two of his cohorts, who know nothing at all about solar panels. We’re just being railroaded
PAUL STAINTON: Which man are you talking about here?
PAUL STAINTON: Mr Marco Cereste.
MIKE FLETCHER: Marco Cereste. It’s his project. Nobody else seems to be very interested in it really.
PAUL STAINTON: Well it has been passed through the Council hasn’t it? It has been put to Planning, so I mean the Council’s had an opportunity to have their say on it. So it’s been agreed.
MIKE FLETCHER: Cabinet Member decisions. It hasn’t really, this scheme hasn’t gone before Full Council.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. But if we don’t approve this scheme in Newborough by April, we’re going to get an even worse tariff on it, aren’t we, which will affect the budget even more, won’t it?
MIKE FLETCHER: I’m not au fait with the actual figures of it Paul, because we haven’t been ..
PAUL STAINTON: Well basically if we don’t do it before .. if we’re going to do this in the North of the county, if we’re going to do this solar farm, and we’re going to bring this money in, we need to do it quickly. It could be a masterstroke, couldn’t it? They could earn millions from this …
PAUL STAINTON: .. for Peterborough City Council. We can have cheaper electricity. It could be a masterstroke.
MIKE FLETCHER: Well informed observers say it just won’t work. I read in one little article where they say the return on it might be less than 1%.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. Well if it doesn’t work, where are we going to get the cash from for the budget shortfall in the next four, five, six years? What’s going to happen?
MIKE FLETCHER: If I had full access to all the accounts and such, then probably we could come up with something that would save money.
PAUL STAINTON: Well we certainly need to. We’re talking millions Mike. Mike thank you for that. Mike Fletcher, Independent ward councillor for South Bretton. Still not happy about the solar farm which is proposed for Newborough , the land around there. Not happy that he’s not getting details on how the solar panels are generating money on the old Freemans building in Peterborough, which is a massive building. We’ll dig into that though. We’ll try and find out whether .. how much money has been made from that. We were hoping to talk to somebody from Peterborough City Council this morning, but they weren’t able to come on. They did send us a statement, which reads, “a great deal of information has been released to Councillor Fletcher today regarding the City Council’s existing solar panels. As he’s aware, some of the information he’s asking for is commercially sensitive, and releasing it would be detrimental to future negotiations by the City Council. Peterborough householders continue to enjoy one of the lowest council tax rates in the country, and it’s proposed the rate would be frozen for the forthcoming year. Projects such as the solar farm proposal is one way the City Council is looking to generate significant income for the benefit of everyone in the city, and to help maintain many of the front line services the City Council provides. Statutory consultation closes today, and will be determined in due course by the Planning Committee based on planning considerations and absolutely nothing else.”