Free electricity for 5,000 Norwich homes?

Up to 5,000 families around Norwich could benefit from free electricity if a pioneering scheme to fit solar panels to council homes becomes reality.

Norwich City Council is hoping to sign a contract with a company prepared to install photovoltaic cells on thousands of homes - which would mean free power in daylight hours for the people in those homes.

The city council has already been in touch with companies interested in becoming a partner in the scheme and genuinely believes the project could be introduced in Norwich at no cost to the council or to the families who opt-in to the scheme.

That is because the government-backed feed-in tariff scheme means companies which produce electricity and export it into the national grid receive payment.

Feed-in tariffs (also known as the Clean Energy Cashback) were introduced in April 2010. The scheme pays households, businesses, communities and local authorities for the renewable electricity they generate from eligible installations such as solar panels and wind turbines.

The council hopes those payments will entice energy companies to pay for the installation of the solar panels, which would turn the sun's rays into electricity and provide free power to tenants during daylight hours.

The company would get the money from those payments, while there is scope for the council to make a small amount from what are known as export tariffs - which could be used to provide energy advice to homes not benefiting from the free electricity.

Most Read

Paul Swanborough, director of regeneration and development at the city council, said: 'Feed-in tariffs have made it a worthwhile investment for companies who are prepared to invest their capital to install the photovoltaic cells.

'The company would still own that equipment and would manage it, but they will make money from having the photovoltaic cells.

'The organisations we have come across have got different ways of doing it, but generally speaking, the benefits can be that the people living in the house can use the electricity because the feed-in payments work by making payments to the companies for generating the electricity.

'So if it all goes through, then our tenants could be benefiting from free electricity.'

Mr Swanborough said the council's cabinet would be asked on Wednesday to approve working with a partner to install the panels.

He said: 'We have drawn up the specifications which would go out to tender saying this is what we want, what can you bring to it?

'We would need to go out to tender and if we get a good offer and all the ifs and buts are sorted then we could proceed with somebody as a long-term partner.

'We are proceeding carefully because this is all new territory for the organisations and for us, but based on the way the council houses face the maximum number of homes where the photovoltaic cells could be installed is about 5,000 homes.

'It might be lower than that, though, as it depends on whether there are trees in the way, but it would be quite a significant number.'

He said private tenants could also benefit, either by getting the cells installed at a cheaper rate than normal when work is happening in their street and receiving the feed-in tariffs themselves or by getting the kit installed for free and the installation company getting the cash, while they benefit from free electricity.

Brenda Arthur, cabinet member for housing, said: 'We have got to look at new ways of providing energy and if we can offer something like this to tenants would be really good news.'

Meanwhile, latest research from the Energy Saving Trust reveals that East of England householders could save �190m every year by taking three energy saving steps.

If every East of England householder insulated their cavity walls and lofts up to 270mm, replaced old-fashioned bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and turned their appliances off standby, owners would not only save hundreds of pounds a year on their fuel bills but also cut nearly 1m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to taking 320,000 cars off East of England roads.

The UK-wide study, released to mark this year's Energy Saving Week (October 25 to 31), reveals the shift in attitude the financial downturn is making on homeowners' approach to energy efficiency.

The survey of more than 2200 UK adults has found that three quarters of householders living in Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Suffolk are looking to cut their fuel bills, citing financial hardship as the main reason.