No truth in £500,000 solar panel waste, says South Hams chief


Debate heats up in the South Hams (Courtesy Raysonho (Wikimedia Commons)

The Greens said the council could have avoided the upfront payment

The leader of South Hams Council insists there is no truth to claims they waste half a million pounds on solar panels and any suggestion they could have been installed for free is totally unfounded.

It follows claims by Green Party councilor for Dartington and Staverton, Jacqi Hodgson, that neither the council nor Fusion Lifestyle, which runs the four leisure centers across the South Hams, needed to put in the money in advance as it could have been fully funded by Totnes Renewable Energy Company (TRESOC).

Earlier this year councilors approved plans to loan Fusion Lifestyle up to £500,000 to install solar panels which would be repaid over a period of time.

But this month the council said it would buy the panels and receive income from Fusion instead of loan repayments.

Cllr Hodgson says the project could have been done at no cost to the council or leisure centers and TRESOC would have recouped its expenses by selling excess power to other users or the national grid.

However, Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council and Conservative Councilor for Salcombe and Thurlestone, said such claims were totally untrue.

“Very high energy consumption is common in leisure centers, especially those with swimming pools,” she said.

“Fusion conducted a procurement process to obtain an installer for the solar panel installation work, which included TRESOC, but independently decided that TRESOC’s bid did not meet the project objectives.”

Cllr Judy Pearce (courtesy South Hams District Council)

The reasons given as to why TRESOC was considered unsuitable include:

  • To maximize success, the solar panels will be installed, operated and maintained by Fusion. Almost all of the electricity produced will be used directly by each center.
  • The involvement of a third party such as TRESOC whose objective is to provide a profitable energy supply to its members, will not meet the objectives of the project as well as the purchase, installation and direct management of the solar panels.
  • While TRESOC offers free initial installation of the panels, they would benefit from an agreement with Fusion, which would pay for the panels and more, for the duration of the agreement. Providing a profit margin to a third party, in this case TRESOC, reduces the benefits for the board and Fusion. The initial capital investment for the project can be found without the intervention of a third party.

Cllr Pearce explained other practical aspects of the board’s approach. “The council owns the buildings and leases them to Fusion,” she said.

“It is important that ownership of the solar panels is treated equally, which is not possible with the ‘upfront free’ investment model.

“There was also a requirement to work with a single supplier, and of course the council has several leisure centres, three of which are not in Totnes.

It is estimated that the panels will reduce the centres’ carbon emissions by the equivalent of 131 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the same as the annual energy emissions of 38 homes.


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