THE Church of England is calling on the Government to slow down its plans to cut payments for energy generated by solar panels.
Thirty-five churches have installed the panels already, and more than 300 are considering the idea, in an effort to cut energy bills and generate funds by selling surplus power to the National Grid.
The potential benefits are under threat, however, after the Climate Change and Energy Minister, Gregory Barker, unexpectedly announced a 50-per-cent reduction in payments from 12 December — six months earlier than originally planned.
The social responsibility officer for the diocese of Exeter, Martyn Goss, said: “This news is very disappointing. Here, in the south-west, we have been encouraging churches to install panels, and many will be adversely affected by this cut in tariff, resulting in having the rug pulled from underneath them by such short-term, political decision-making.”
The Church’s national environment officer, David Shreeve, said: “The returns on a solar project will not be as financially attractive as they were, and will take longer to pay back. Whilst in the life of a church building this is not a long time, it will take us into the next generation.
“As well as enabling churches to use renewable energy, we see solar panels on church roofs as setting a brilliant example to their local communities.”
The Church is asking that parishes be allowed until 31 March 2012 to benefit from the current payments — known as the Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) scheme.
It is also asking for a special community tariff from 1 April 2012, and for churches to be exempt from obtaining Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), which specify a building’s energy efficiency. The Church has 12,500 listed buildings, many of which would have difficulty fulfilling EPC criteria, despite using energy efficiently.
The Church’s call is backed by an online petition, https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20928, which has attracted more than 600 signatures so far.
The Local Government Association and the CBI have already criticised the Government’s plans, and Friends of the Earth are threatening legal action.
Paul Williams, the chief executive of the solar-energy company Freetricity, which installs panels free in return for the FIT payments, accused Ministers of short-sightedness.
“We were working hard with the voluntary sector to install free solar panels on the roofs of community centres, charity buildings, and schools” he said. “The government cuts mean that this is something that we are no longer likely to be able to do. It is those people who could benefit most from solar energy who will lose out the most.
“I have written to David Cameron to express my anger, and I would urge all those who feel the same to do the same.”