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Local authorities still interested in solar says Nottingham councillor

Image: Hilti Solar.

Image: Hilti Solar.

Local authorities are still willing and able to invest in solar energy if installers can make the business case to do so, according to Nottingham City councillor Alan Clark.

Despite recent cuts to the feed-in tariff having the potential to stifle new installations in social housing, Clark believes councils across the country still have the funds to commit to renewables.

Speaking this week at the Nottingham edition of the Solar Power Portal Roadshows, Clark explained: “You hear a lot of baloney talked about how much reserves councils through the country have got. The thing you need to emphasise is often those are earmarked reserves.

Nottingham City Council is currently committed to a 25-year private finance initiative (PFI) contract for its trams, with local authority revenue added every year.

Clark claimed there were similar funds available throughout the country for investment, adding that the 5% rate of return on investment - stipulated by the government for the recent FiT cuts - was enough to attract this investment.

“What you do with that money in the meantime – it’s earmarked so you can’t spend it – would be to use it to generate some income,” he continued.

“Our rule of thumb is if we can make a 5% return on our investment. People often talk about the pay back period and we do look at that - which is now hovering around ten years - but the return on investment is important to us.

“We can’t use capital without some sort of return. I’ve always treated the FiT as a nice top-up or a ‘nice to have’ but we need the hard economics behind it.”

Nottingham City Council is committed to a 26% reduction in emissions by 2020 from the 2005 base and will be pursuing this through wider use of low or zero carbon energy sources.

Like many councils with similar targets, Clark and his colleagues will be pursuing this through solar installations on new and existing council homes, with a target of an additional 2,000 solar properties over the next three years.

The Labour-led authority plans to build 500 new properties in the same period which barring any “exceptional circumstances” will all have solar panels fitted as standard, irrespective of the FiT.

Clark added: “Of course the change in FiT has hit our ability to meet our ambitions. That was clearly a blow to us as much as it anyone else in this field. But we are determined to continue to install renewable energy wherever we can make the business case.”

As well as domestic installations, the council has completed 14 non-domestic solar projects, including two car ports with plans to add electric vehicle charging points in the future. It is also considering small-scale solar farms to service specific geographical areas under the council’s jurisdiction