A scheme to install solar panels free of charge on homes in Peterborough has been rolled out to all areas of the city, Peterborough city council has announced.

Residents have been urged to act quickly as solar arrays must be installed by the end of the year when the scheme will now end.

The short time frame follows the government announcement of a consultation on reductions to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) rates for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations at the start of next year.

The FiT scheme, set up in 2010, pays a set tariff from electricity suppliers to householders, communities or businesses for the power their small-scale renewables installations generate.

A Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) document released on 27 August revealed that the return homeowners will get from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels installed after January 2016 is set to fall, from the current 12.47p per kWh to 1.63p for those with smaller solar installations, and from 4.28p per kWh to 1.03p for those with large standalone units.
Successful applicants to the Peterborough scheme won’t have to pay a penny towards the cost of installing and maintaining the solar panels, the council has said. They will benefit from an expected energy saving of about £200 every year and receive £100 every five years, for 20 years, for having the panels on their roof.

A separate agreement has also been signed with Axiom Housing Association to fit solar panels on its properties.

A community fund has been established that benefits from a percentage of the money the scheme generates. That fund could total around £1m over the 20 years of the scheme if panels are installed on 1,500 properties, it is claimed.

In addition, the council would expect to generate a sum of about £1m during the same period if this number of properties was achieved. 

The solar PV arrays are installed by Empower Peterborough CIC, a partnership that has been created by the council and Empower Community, a social enterprise that provides access to capital for community renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

To apply to benefit from the scheme residents must register their interest at: www.peterborough.gov.uk/freesolar. Following this, residents will be contacted, and each roof will be assessed for its suitability and ability to connect to the electricity network.

Councillor John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council, said: "Unexpectedly the government looks like it's going to reduce the Feed-in Tariffs by almost 90%.

"So we need to act quickly and get as many free solar panels as possible on residents' roofs by the end of the year to take advantage of the current tariff.

"This had been limited to areas in central Peterborough but to get the maximum benefit for residents and the city as a whole we've decided to open it up to everyone.

"There will be a lot of effort put in over the next three months to assess roof suitability and get as many systems installed as possible. So get in touch now and benefit from reduced energy bills over the next 20 years without spending anything."

The scheme has been backed by all political groups at the council, who are supporting the drive to roll out the initiative across the city. 

Councillor Nick Sandford, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Peterborough City Council, said: “Having solar panels on your roof is really empowering: it enables you to generate your own electricity and reduce your energy bills. And under this scheme it won’t cost you a penny.”

The installation process is quick and straightforward, usually taking less than a day - and once it’s installed you can use as much of the free solar electricity as you like. You don’t have to make any changes with your electricity supplier.

“It’s all about the power of inclusion,” said Alex Grayson of social enterprise Empower Community. “The question has to be – if a roof is suitable for PV and it hasn’t got it - why not? The Feed-in Tariff is there until the end of this year, the proven technology is there, the experience is there and the investment is there.

“It’s about aligning everyone’s interests and taking the most inclusive approach to a city-wide programme of installations. If you don’t have the spare cash to invest in solar yourself, but can still have an installation that benefits you and your community, at no cost – what’s not to like?”

The homeowner will sign a Roof Lease Agreement, which allows installation, maintenance of the PV system and collection of feed-in tariff payments for 20 years.