Jamie Hailstone reports

Council tenants across Darlington are being invited to switch on to the benefits of solar power as part of a limited, free installation scheme.

Darlington Borough Council has joined forces with two solar installation companies – Global Heat Source and Saving Energy Renewables North East – to deliver the programme, which aims to install solar panels on around 1,000 council properties by the end of the year.

The scheme will focus on council homes within the borough that have been identified as potentially suitable, such as those with an appropriately sized roof, facing in the right direction and with no shading issues. 

Letters will be sent to the tenants of these properties this week inviting them to sign up to the scheme. Any tenants interested are urged to call the Freephone number provided in the letter as soon as possible, as this is a time limited opportunity and the last installations need to be completed before Christmas.

Tenants will benefit from significantly reduced electricity bills, with an estimated average saving of around £200 a year, while the scheme will help the council tackle fuel poverty in the borough and reduce its carbon emissions. 

The installation companies will receive money from the government as part of the Feed in Tariff Incentive Scheme (FiT), which offers monetary encouragement to companies to invest in green energy.

Councillor Veronica Copeland, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Housing, explained: “A consultation is currently ongoing on whether the FiT payments are to be cut or the scheme closed altogether, so we do have a limited time in which to take advantage of this initiative.

“Our partner companies have identified the properties most likely to be suitable and letters will be going out to those tenants this week to outline the scheme. The tenants will be invited to register their interest and arrange a full survey.

“Ideally, installation work will start on the first properties in early November and we could see solar panels installed in around 1,000 homes by the end of the year.

“Obviously, not all properties will be suitable and tenants do not have to take part, but for those who are interested it could lead to savings of up to £200 a year on their electricity bill. It will also help us help the environment by cutting our carbon emissions. So it’s a win-win situation for all.”

There is no cost for council tenants and they are not obliged to take part in the scheme. If solar panels are installed and the tenant later exercises their right to buy the property, it would then be up to the householder to either continue to liaise with the panel provider for the remainder of the lease period or to buy the panels outright and claim the FiT payments themselves.

For more information about the scheme contact Darlington Borough Council’s Customer Services’ team on 01325 405333, log onto the website atwww.darlington.gov.uk/freesolar or the free phone number for the installers on 0800 852 1247 (Mon-Fri 9am-7pm).