The debate is heating up in the South Hams (Courtesy: Raysonho (Wikimedia Commons)

Greens said the council could have avoided the payment in the first place

The leader of South Hams Council insisted there was no truth to the claim they had wasted half a million pounds on solar panels and that any suggestion they could have installed them for free was completely unfounded.

It follows claims by Green Party councilor for Dartington and Staverton, Jacqi Hodgson, that neither the council nor Fusion Lifestyle, which runs all four leisure centers across the South Hams, should put up either which money up front as it can be fully funded by the Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC).

Earlier this year councilors approved plans to lend Fusion Lifestyle up to £500,000 to install solar panels which will be paid back over a period of time.

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

Cllr Hodgson said the project could have been done at no cost to the council or leisure centers and TRESOC could recoup their costs by selling excess energy to other users or the national grid.

However, South Hams District Council leader and Conservative councilor for Salcombe and Thurlestone, Judy Pearce, said such claims were completely untrue.

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

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

Cllr Judy Pearce (courtesy: South Hams District Council)

Reasons given as to why TRESOC was deemed inappropriate included:

  • To maximize success, the solar panels will be installed, operated and maintained by Fusion. Almost all the power generated will be used directly at each center.
  • The involvement of a third party such as TRESOC whose objective is to provide a useful supply of energy to its members, will not achieve the objectives of the project as successfully as direct purchase, -installation and management of solar panels.
  • While TRESOC offers free initial panel installation, they earn a profit from an agreement with Fusion, who will pay for the panels etc., within the term of the agreement. Giving profits to a third party, in this case TRESOC, will reduce the benefits of the council and Fusion. Early capital expenditure for the project will be found without the involvement of a third party.

Cllr Pearce explained further the practicalities of the approach taken by the council. “The council owns the buildings and leases them to Fusion,” he said.

“It is important that solar panel ownership is treated equally, something that is not possible using the ‘free upfront’ investment model.

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

It is estimated that the panels will cut the center’s carbon emissions by the equivalent of 131 tons of carbon dioxide, like the annual energy emitted by 38 households.

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