Council to rush deal to fit solar panels

College principal Mandy Exley at the solar meadow at the Dalkeith campus. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
College principal Mandy Exley at the solar meadow at the Dalkeith campus. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A DEAL to fit hundreds of solar panels to council buildings is to be rushed through – to allow the authority to profit from sky high feed-in tariffs.

Plans to fit the roofs of about 25 publicly-owned buildings across Edinburgh with the energy-saving panels will be approved to help the cash-strapped local authority pay for community projects.

Getting the panel plan ticked off before the year ends will allow City Chambers to take advantage of superior ­government surplus energy buy-back tariffs.

Council leader Andrew Burns – one of the ambitious plan’s biggest cheerleaders – hopes it will pay for things such as new childrens’ playgrounds and school extensions.

He said of the scheme: “If this generates a profit and it helps us to fund more additional community facilities, that is easing the burden on us.”

The panels will be installed during 2014. But a deal to sell excess electricity for a profit back to the National Grid needs to be reached by December 31 to secure the best tariff,

Buildings in the Old Town and city centre such as the City Chambers and Waverley Court will be excluded from the plans due to their World Heritage Site status.

However, we can reveal one centre on the shortlist is Blackhall Library. It is thought to be typical of the type of building that will get the panels.

The newly-formed Edinburgh Community Energy Co-operative – a not-for-profit residents’ group – will decide where any profits are spent in partnership with the council.

The Edinburgh collective will no doubt have been ­monitoring a neighbouring scheme with interest. A hydroelectric power station has been revived in the Pentland Hills that will feed profits back into Balerno. The green community scheme is already being widely praised.

Eco power is not just limited to these two projects. Scotland’s first solar meadow, opened at Edinburgh College’s Dalkeith campus earlier this year, has also been a major success, with 2500 panels spread across five acres.

Steven Watson, corporate manager for renewables charity Community Energy Scotland, said the power generated from the Midlothian solar scheme had already exceeded expectations in the first few months of operation. He praised Edinburgh Council’s move, saying: “It seems an enlightened thing for them to be doing. When councils are faced with making cuts, it’s the community services like community centres and libraries that seem to be up for the chop. If the community buildings they have are less of a cost to them, then that’s a good thing.”

The pilot is expected to be approved at the corporate policy and strategy committee on December 3. The council must find savings of £35 million in the next four years.

Plan to shift to co-operatives

COMMUNITY groups known as co-operatives are being pushed by the council as the way forward for Edinburgh.

Since being elected last year, the Coalition has been pushing to set up co-operatives in four key areas – housing, childcare, energy and social care.

Council leader Andrew Burns said co-operatives were a way of winning back the trust that had broken down badly between electorates and ruling authorities.

He said: “We want council services to be transformed by shifting power, so the council is working much more “in partnership” with local people it is ultimately here to serve.”

Funding of up to £25,000 is expected to be approved next month for one of the new groups – the Craigmillar Eco-Housing Co-operative. The money will be spent on building ten affordable homes in Greendykes.