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Churches fall foul of government definition on solar panels

30 November 2012

DIOCESE OF RIPON & LEEDS

Ceremony: the Bishop of Knaresborough, the Rt Revd James Bell (left),inaugurates solar panels installed at St Mark's, Harrogate, in April this year 

Ceremony: the Bishop of Knaresborough, the Rt Revd James Bell (left),inaugurates solar panels installed at St Mark's, Harrogate, in April this year&...

CHURCHES that install solar panels stand to lose thousands of pounds in revenue, under government plans that exclude them from the definition of "community energy projects".

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is making changes to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT), which was introduced in 2010 to encourage small-scale, low-carbon electricity generation by organisations not tradition- ally engaged in the market. The scheme guarantees organisations payment from an electricity supplier, and a guaranteed payment for unused surplus electricity.

Since 2010, almost 100 churches have installed solar panels, and many others are planning to do so.

The scheme has been under review since February 2011, and changes will be implemented from 1 December. This will include changes to support "community energy projects", including an exemption from the requirement that they achieve a "minimum energy-efficiency requirement" in order to qualify for the higher FiT rate.

Many churches, however, will not meet the definition of a "community project", which is set out in the Government's response to a consultation on the changes as "an inter- est company; co-operative society; or a community-benefit society".

Ruth Knight, environmental-policy officer for the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops' Council, said on Monday that it was "disappointed" with the definition.

"Acquiring one of the accepted legal forms is a huge challenge for church groups with onerous administration and reporting structures," she said. The division is considering setting up groups of churches as "Industrial and Provident Societies for the Benefit of the Community" in order to address this.

Garth Sheppard, the treasurer of St Peter's, Mevagissy, Cornwall, said last week that the solar panels that had been installed at the church would generate twice as much revenue if the church met the Government's definition for an exemption from the energy-efficiency requirement - £2000 a year rather than £1000.

It was "not practical" for churches such as St Peter's, which is a 13th-century listed building, to meet the requirement, which would entail installing central heating or double glazing.

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