Peterborough’s Solar Ambitions Baulked

08:08 Friday 9th December 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Peterborough City Council could end up losing out on about £6 million over the next 25 years when it comes to solar panels. Earlier this year the Council installed panels on the roof of the Town Hall, and the Freemans building, hoping to make money from the energy they produce. But changes to tariffs means although the Council applied for a higher return in energy, they’ll end up with a lower one. The figure comes from calculations made by Richard Olive, co-ordinator of Peterborough Friends of the Earth. (TAPE)
RICHARD OLIVE: Well over a 25 year period, it’s going to be £6.52 million. Of course we could do a lot with that money, couldn’t we? (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Councillor Nick Sandford from the Liberal Democrats said if the figure is correct, it’s a huge blow to the city. (TAPE)
NICK SANDFORD: This feed-in tariff was introduced in April 2010, and it had been advertised for about six or twelve months previous to that. It was always envisaged that the feed-in tariff would be cut as the cost of the technology dropped. Now if Peterborough City Council had got in right at the beginning, we could have had not just panels on the Regional Pool. the Freemans building, the Town Hall, as Richard was saying we could have had them on social housing. We could have had them on other Council buildings. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well joining me now is John Harrison, who’s Executive Director for Strategic Resources at Peterborough City Council. Morning John.
PAUL STAINTON: The accusation is you’ve dilly-dallied, shimmy-shallied, shilly-shallied, sat around, sat on your hands, and not got on with it. And you’ve lost a load of money.
JOHN HARRISON: Yes, I heard that before. The simple answer is that we didn’t put any schemes in place until early 2011. But since that point in time, we’ve gone as fast as possible. But we’ve been hit by changes in the Government tariffs.
PAUL STAINTON: When you say as fast as possible, why has it taken so long, and why is everything not already working? I was under the impression it was.
JOHN HARRISON: What do you think is not working?
PAUL STAINTON: Well you’ve not got it working in time to get the full tariff for all of the plans that you had.
JOHN HARRISON: Right. Ok then. Well we need to take a step back on here. On the Town Hall and the Regional Pool, both of those are up and running, and they’re getting the maximum tariff. So there’s no question about that.
PAUL STAINTON: They are minute as compared to the Freemans building, aren’t they? And the potential we had there was much lauded at the time, for how much money it was going to make us. It was going to be the biggest solar farm in the Uk. It was going to make us millions. And now it’s not.
JOHN HARRISON: Now we get what’s happened on the Freemans one is that we put the contract out, got the contractor in place by the beginning of July. By the rules that were in place, we were going to have the scheme what we would call banked by the end of July. And then we could have built it out to another 1500 by the end of March. What happened is on the 27th July, a couple of days before the month end, the Government introduced some new changes in the rules. So we had to stop building it out that big, and we’ve got about 190 built on that roof there now. But we haven’t built anything more than that, because it wouldn’t have been cost-effective.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. Was that amount it was going to cost factored into the budget? Is that why there was a delay in getting it all done?
JOHN HARRISON: No. We didn’t bank on the income coming in the budget until the amount of time we knew when the money would come into the budget. So we haven’t lost it.
PAUL STAINTON: Well we have. We have. We’re not going to get it, are we?
JOHN HARRISON: Yes we haven’t got it.
PAUL STAINTON: So we’ve lost it.
JOHN HARRISON: Yes we haven’t lost it because we didn’t bank on it. No we didn’t bank on it, so it hasn’t been a hole in the budget, as was suggested.
PAUL STAINTON: So that’s alright then, is it?
JOHN HARRISON: No. It would have been even better if the Government hadn’t changed the rules on the 27th July, and we’d have got a lot more money.
PAUL STAINTON: We knew the Government were going to change the rules. We’d been warned they were going to cut the feed-in tariff.
PAUL STAINTON: We had. We had.
JOHN HARRISON: No we hadn’t. At this point in time, they were doing some reviews, and we were the only local authority scheme that got caught by the review that happened on the 27th July. We were so far ahead of every other local authority, and it was to stop the private sector. We got the Local Government Association to support us. But we were the only local authority that got caught by the last minute change in the rules.
PAUL STAINTON: The feed-in tariff and the rate of it was never going to be a permanent thing. It was always meant to be a temporary thing. They never told us when they were going to cut it, but it was always intended it would be cut. Shouldn’t we have moved earlier?
JOHN HARRISON: Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and I wish we had moved earler now, but we were where we were. At the point of time, even in April, they were still predicting that feed-in tariffs were going up. And so the feed-in tariff for the current year on things like the Regional Pool, was nearly at 33p. And in the space of nine months they reduced it down to 15p.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it still going to be worth doing?
JOHN HARRISON: The Regional Pool and that, we’ve already banked that money. they can’t change the rates that they’ve got for us, unless they do something under the new legislation. What we’re looking at now is, and I;m hoping next week to award a contract, and I can’t say the name at this stage, but I’m hoping that we should be able to build out some more around schools, and even some community buildings. And I’m particularly looking at Gladstone for that.
PAUL STAINTON: What about Freemans? Are you going to continue to do the whole of that project? Or is it not worthwhile?
JOHN HARRISON: No. It is not worthwhile at all. And that’s why I stopped it. I had a clause in the contract that basically said if the Government did change the rules, I wouldn’t build out any more. It’s not in the interests of tax payers. So I stopped it at 190. But 190 is still the biggest roof scheme of any local authority in the East of England. And some of the technology we’ve put on is actually the largest in the Uk. Fairly advanced.
PAUL STAINTON: So you put that clause in the contract, because you thought it might get cut? You must have thought that. You should have got on with it. We could have had all that money.
JOHN HARRISON: When the contract was let, I put clauses in to protect the Council. You never know what is going to change.
PAUL STAINTON: You don’t always get them in Council contracts, do you?
JOHN HARRISON: Well  .. Every now and again I do get things right, in spite of what you may think Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s not me. It’s what the public of Peterborough have been saying this morning. So you put the clause in the contract. So we sort of thought maybe it’s going to get cut, and we didn’t get on with it. So the Freemans project has been stopped, and that will end now. But you will look to do other things across the city that are financially viable.
JOHN HARRISON: Oh yes. Definitely. As long as the feed-in tariff and the amount of money that will generate, in terms of saving our electric, then yes, we will look to still build them out. And I’m hopeful that next week we should be able to start working on a few more by the end of the year.
PAUL STAINTON: John, thank you for coming on this morning. John Harrison,  Executive Director for Strategic Resources at Peterborough City Council. So you heard it here. The big massive solar plan for the Freemans roof has been halted. It’s got 190 panels I think John said. And that’s where it will end, because it’s no longer financially viable because of the cut in the feed-in tariff. And we are potentially going to lose about five or six million pounds over the next 25 years that we would have got in income because of that.