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Green light given to a green bright idea; Solar panel programme will cut costs.

Byline: Dave Black

MORE than 500 homes and community buildings in Northumberland are set to go green in a multi-million pound programme aimed at reducing the county's carbon footprint and cutting energy costs.

Solar panels are to be fitted to the roofs of 400 council-owned houses and about 130 schools and other public buildings in a pounds 7m investment by the county council in renewable energy generation. The aim of the project is to use the power of the sun to provide cheap electricity for hundreds of council tenants, school staff and pupils and users of community buildings.

Excess energy produced by the thousands of photovoltaic panels will be sold to the national grid to give the council a return on its investment - and help cut costs and protect jobs and services.

The drive is part of a commitment by the Liberal Democrat-led unitary authority to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% over five years.

This week the council's executive agreed in private session to give the programme the green light, and sanction the pounds 7m borrowing required to pay for it.

The solar panels will be installed on suitable properties run by Homes for Northumberland - the arms-length company which manages 8,500 houses and flats for the council - and on a variety of schools, community and office buildings.

Tenants will not have to pay anything towards the installation costs.

The 530 buildings to benefit from the green investment have not all been identified yet, but the council's HQ at County Hall in Morpeth will be at the centre of the scheme.

Yesterday executive member for corporate resources, Andrew Tebbutt, said: "This is a good news story and is all about investing to save and reducing our energy costs.

"We would like to roll it out further because the more people who can benefit from this the better.

"We have been looking at how to reduce our carbon footprint for a couple of years now, and have made a commitment to cut it by 50% over five years. "At a time when we are facing further significant budget savings, reducing our fuel costs helps to save jobs and protect services." Executive member for planning, housing and regeneration, Tom Brechany, said the project would benefit local people, the council and the environment, and would create 18 jobs. He said: "Following a detailed analysis we have chosen to invest pounds 7m in this Government-subsidised prudential borrowing scheme so that we can reap the financial and energy saving benefits for the county in the future."

The council says that it has chosen to invest in the project rather than contract out the installation work so that it will be able to retain any profits generated in future.

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FUTURE Solar panels are to be fitted to the roofs of 400 council-owned houses and about 130 schools and other public buildings in a pounds 7m investment
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 11, 2011
Words:483
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