Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Village Hall meetings

With parliament now in recess it has been a good opportunity to press ahead with the latest series of village hall meetings I have organised where we have a public question and answer session open to all.

We did one in Mawnan Smith before Christmas and another in Stithians a couple of weeks ago. This Friday I am in Gweek and last Friday I was in Constantine.

The big issue in Constantine at the moment is the proposal for a large solar power farm at Brill on the outskirts of the village. The last government set up a policy to encourage solar panels on roofs and so called "micro-generation". Those installing solar panels are guaranteed a "feed in tariff"- a guaranteed payment per KWh of electrcity put in to the national grid which is above the prevailing market rate. The cost is ultimately absorbed by electricity consumers through slightly higher electrcity bills.

The new government fully supports the idea of encouraging micro-generation. Recently Camborne Church told me that they were investigating the possibility of putting solar panels on their roof which would generate an income to support some of their good work in the community. However, there has been something of a stampede from commercial developers who want to set up field scale solar farms and pick up the subsidy and that is not what was intended by the current policy. Because the current Feed in Tariff is guaranteed for 25 years, the new government has decided to review the rates paid and publish new levels in June which will probably involve paying a lower feed in tariff for field scale projects but leave the incentives for projects like that being considered by Camborne Church the same. It makes sense and will mean that everyone knows where they stand by this June rather than next March as the previous government had intended.

The idea of field scale solar farms is new to this country and is causing planners a headache too. I think that it is crucial in such situations to deliver a real benefit to the community if such schemes are to be considered. In some parts of the country, progress has been made with community ownership schemes where local communities who are asked to accept, say, a wind farm or solar farm on their doorstep are given free shares in the company or maybe guaranteed free electricity for the life of the project. We have to stop our planning system being a zero sum game where if the developer wins, the community loses. Such benefits need to be hard financial benefits with immediate impact. At the moment, the guidance from Cornwall planners is that developers should consider offering other "green" commitments like eco buses and the like. I doubt that will cut the mustard. Free electricity might.