St Albans council house tentants free to install solar panels - at their own expense

Solar panels on a private house in Wheathampstead

Solar panels on a private house in Wheathampstead

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Tenants wanting to install solar panels on their council homes having been given the go ahead by St Albans District council - just as long as they pick up the bill.

In a statement released last week, councillor Brian Ellis, portfolio holder for housing, said that “applications to attach the panels will be looked upon favourably,” but conceded that “tenants will need to find the finance for the work themselves”.

The statement explained that the council had spent £9 million on double glazing and cavity and wall insulation in the last three years - but would not commit to spending any money on solar panels.

It also said that 18 properties and a block of flats in Wheathampstead had been fitted with solar panels under a grant scheme in 2007. A handful of private houses in the area have also fitted solar panels to their property.

One Wheathampstead couple told the Herts Ad that they own their house and paid around £7,000 for the solar panels six years ago.

Phil Watkins, 65, said: “It’s our house and we paid for the solar panels. And unless the people who fitted it applied, we didn’t need planning permission at that time.”

Despite many councils across the country forking out for solar panels - Kirklees, for example, fitted 2,000 homes with solar panels at a cost of £9.2 million, without charging tenants a penny - St Albans are advising residents that if they want to go green, they must do it at their own expense.

Councillor Ellis said: “Double glazing and insulation have a high pay back in terms of energy efficiency and therefore reduced carbon emissions; these have been the focus of the council’s investments.

“However, we recognise that some tenants may wish to reduce their energy bills by installing solar panels. Therefore, we will look favourably on any applications by tenants to install solar panels at council homes.”

The statement comes as the government plans to slash the so-called ‘feed-in tariff’ that is paid to anyone generating electrical energy from solar panels.

Owners of property with an EPC rating of D or above, for example, are paid 12.92 pence per kWh for excess solar energy. But ministers are pushing through proposals which would see a reduction of 87 per cent - meaning that new adopters of solar would be paid just 1.63 pence from January 1.

Simon Grover called the district council’s statement “comical”, adding that “solar power can provide cheaper energy bills for council tenants and an income for councils. It’s a win-win.

“But while many councils have invested heavily in solar, St Albans has done almost nothing.”

Cllr Grover pointed out that the district council had 2,900 houses for which solar panels should be considered and said: “Half a dozen panels here or there is just a wasted opportunity.”

Karen Dragovic, head of housing at St Albans district council, explained that the reason tenants were expected to pay for solar panels was that “the financial and energy benefits are shared between the tenant and the energy supplier.”

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