Unleash potential of rooftop solar to tackle energy crisis, Devon

Changes to planning policy could turbocharge the rollout of solar energy and help reduce reliance on gas at little or no cost to the public purse, analysis by CPRE, the national countryside charity has shown.  It’s urging the government to target rooftops, car parks and brownfield sites for a rapid expansion of renewables. 

Authored by sharon goble www.thedevondaily.co.uk 

The Devon branch of the charity, Devon CPRE, has been fighting industrial-sized solar farms in the countryside for years, along with locals who oppose these developments on Devon’s farmland. Demands for food security and nature recovery are needlessly clashing with net zero goals. One of the most recent proposals for a large solar farm at Marsh Green, near Exeter, is due to go before East Devon District Council’s planning committee at the end of this month. 

Devon CPRE trustee Steve Crowther says, “Devon CPRE is passionate about ensuring that valuable farmland which we increasingly need for our food security – including the top quality livestock-farming land that’s so abundant in Devon – is not lost to industrial-scale solar farms and massive battery storage sites. 

“Each of the large solar sites which we have been fighting takes the equivalent of a whole average-sized Devon farm out of effective food production. As this CPRE report shows, roofs, canopies and brownfield sites are the solution; and there are more than enough of them nationally to provide all the solar power that our grid can cope with.”

The charity is calling on the government to adopt a renewables strategy that prioritises rooftops, surface car parks and brownfield sites in a concerted effort to attract wide public support. If implemented quickly, the policy could drastically reduce energy bills during the cost-of-living crisis and speed up the transition to net zero, while leaving as much countryside as possible available for farming and nature restoration. 

Analysis by CPRE, using highly conservative estimates, shows that if only a quarter of the UK’s total 250,000ha. of south-facing commercial roof space was useable it could provide  25GW of solar capacity. With good planning and design, 20,000ha. of car parking space could potentially yield an additional 8GW of solar capacity alongside tens of thousands of new homes. The UK already has 14.5GW of solar capacity operational. 

In contrast to the UK’s approach, France has announced plans to fast-track renewable energy by mandating car parks nationwide be covered by solar panels – a popular policy that could generate up to 11GW of power, equivalent to 10 nuclear reactors. Meanwhile, Germany has focussed on rooftops first, with 80% of its solar power coming from panels that generate little public opposition.  

It is evident that a combination of rooftops, surface car parks, brownfield sites and small-scale community energy schemes could make a huge contribution to our onshore renewable energy requirements, especially when coupled with better measures to reduce total energy demand currently missing from the government’s approach.  

UK economy recovering ‘dramatically’ worse from Covid than EU and US, says Bank of England governor

Britain’s economy is recovering far worse than that of the eurozone and US from the recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bank of England governor has said.

Jon Stone www.independent.co.uk 

Speaking at a hearing of the Treasury Select Committee on Wednesday Andrew Bailey told MP there was a “dramatic” and “stark” difference in economic performance.

Mr Bailey said the UK’s GDP had still not recovered to its 2019 level and was 0.7 per cent smaller than it had been pre-pandemic.

He contrasted this with the eurozone area, whose economy now 2.1 per cent bigger than in 2019.

The US economy had grown even more, he added, with its GDP now 4.2 per cent bigger than it had been at the start of the pandemic.

Economic activity was put into the deep freeze across the world during the Covid-19 pandemic as countries around the world locked down to prevent the spread of the virus.

In most cases growth rebounded sharply after economies reopened, but the UK has not done as well as its neighbours.

“I’m afraid it’s not a good story I’m about to tell you: the level of UK GDP now versus the pre Covid level, compared to other economies is think -0.7 per cent,” Mr Bailey told MPs.

“So in other words, the economy is smaller than it was at the end of 2019 in terms of GDP. The euro area is plus 2.1 and the US on the latest number, which is just come out, is plus 4.2.

“It is a dramatic difference. I think there’s probably quite a few things account for it: the approach that’s been taken towards energy prices, fiscal support, the US has had a lot of fiscal support and is in a very different position in terms of the economy.

“So there’s probably quite a lot of things contributing to it, but it’s pretty striking.”

Mr Bailey was speaking on the same day the Office for National Statistics showed soaring food and energy prices had driven UK inflation to a 40-year high of 11.1 per cent.

Energy firms accused of profiteering with ‘horrendous rates’ for care homes

Energy suppliers have been accused of profiteering by charging “horrendous and financially crippling rates” to care homes facing huge bills this winter.

Alex Lawson www.theguardian.com 

The chief executive of Care England, the largest body representing independent providers of adult care, has accused gas suppliers of being “unduly onerous” in their practices.

In a letter to Ofgem, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), seen by the Guardian, Martin Green called on the energy regulator to launch an investigation into suppliers’ practices.

A review by the not-for-profit energy consultancy Box Power Cic found that gas suppliers were not passing on recent falls in wholesale prices to businesses in the care sector.

Green wrote: “We believe there can be no justification for charging such horrendous and financially crippling rates that gas suppliers are explicitly prohibited from doing so.”

Ofgem’s supply licence stipulates that companies must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the terms of each deal for customers not locked into long-term contracts are “not unduly onerous”.

Green said: “Undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues facing the country at present is the ongoing energy crisis. The rises in wholesale electricity and gas prices are having a profound effect on businesses and individuals across the country.

“However, there are few environments where the impact has been as severe and devastating as in the adult social care sector, which is required to heat facilities this winter and increase ventilation by letting in fresh air into indoor spaces.”

The Covid outbreak stretched resources at care homes across the country and the government’s policy towards care homes in England at the start of the pandemic has been ruled illegal.

Green said there was an “underlying financial fragility” in the sector and its need to use large amounts of energy “has meant providers are pushed further into what was already an incredibly precarious situation”.

The price of natural gas has fallen sharply in recent weeks as a mild start to winter and good progress in filling up European storage facilities have eased concerns over shortages of Russian gas this winter.

The government introduced a six-month scheme to discount businesses’ energy costs last month. The Box Power study found that many tariffs were being increased by more than the government’s discount and “bear no relation” to current prices. It said companies were being charged 25p to 40p per kilowatt hour, far higher than spot prices of about 3p.

Green’s intervention echoes similar concerns among pubs and restaurants over gas and electricity costs.

The trade body UKHospitality said companies had been quoted deals “substantially” above the wholesale cost. Its chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said there was “no reasonable explanation for this colossal increase in margins” and wrote to the business secretary, Grant Shapps, requesting an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority.

The business department said it was “aware of a small minority of businesses” reporting energy suppliers were undermining the energy bill relief scheme in response to Nicholls’ claims. It said it was working with Ofgem to ensure licences had not been breached.

Suppliers have argued that uncertainty over the future price of gas and electricity has made determining the price of contracts difficult.

A spokesperson for the energy regulator said it intended to respond to the Care England letter, adding: Ofgem’s priority is to protect consumers and businesses and ensure they pay a fair price for their energy.

“That’s why we are working with government and stakeholders to determine if further action or assistance is needed to help protect businesses including care homes and their residents, including whether a review on compliance of existing obligations is needed.”

BEIS was contacted for comment.

Response to ‘Sad Day for Clyst St Mary’

From Athena’s Bubo:

“Owl continues to show the characteristics of its species, who are known for their binocular vision and binaural hearing, bestowing great wisdom and judgement, which can also be attributed to five Members of the East Devon Planning Committee yesterday, who voted against these horrendous 40 four-storey flats in a historic, rural village!

Unfortunately, such qualities and traits are lacking in Developers, who seem more akin to vultures (gaining from other’s troubles); magpies (systematic hunters, eating their own species); cuckoos (cunning but destructive birds); pigeons (causing extensive damage and contamination, often called ‘rats with wings’); crows (intellectual but deadly in groups know as ‘murders’ – when they can devastate environments)!

The six Planning Committee Members who voted in support of this development seemed more to mimic a gaggle of geese (flocking together for improved foraging); booming bitterns (loud, liking the sound of their own voices, patronising but likely to be fighting extinction); the Dodos (renowned as the dumbest birds ever – but now extinct); the ostriches and emus (with undersized brains, easily fooled, favouring sticking their heads in the sand to avoid problems)!

In essence, both could be described as “the Feather-Their Own NestsBirds”, some seeking avarice, others to climb to the highest perches to control, look condescendingly or dominate the more amenable, compliant species.

If these 40 towering structures ever get built in Clyst St Mary (in this current financial climate), Owl is welcome to fly in and land on the very highest storey to survey all the surrounding countryside but unfortunately, for any sustenance, Owl will have to fly elsewhere because the natural habitat and wildlife will be obliterated!”

North Yorkshire to tackle rise in second homes with council tax premium – 100% premium

The Yorkshire seaside towns of Whitby and Scarborough will be among the first in England to double council tax on second homes to tackle the “blight” of holiday lets.

Josh Halliday www.theguardian.com 

Councillors said the rise of Airbnb and other rental sites was “tearing the heart out of communities”, as they voted to introduce a 100% premium on owners of second homes in North Yorkshire.

In Whitby, about 28% of properties are holiday homes. Estate agents said that as many as three-quarters of new developments in the town are being sold as short-term lets or to investors.

The vote in Northallerton on Wednesday means North Yorkshire will become one of the first places in England to double council tax on second homes under the government’s levelling up bill, which is currently going through parliament.

The earliest the new council tax premium will take effect is April 2024 if the bill is passed into law by April next year.

Councils in Cornwall and other tourist hotspots are considering whether to introduce the same charge. In Wales, local authorities have been given powers to quadruple council tax bills on holiday homes.

A meeting of North Yorkshire county council was told on Wednesday that the proliferation of properties on sites such as Airbnb was “breaking up communities” and forcing out locals.

David Chance, a Conservative councillor, said the shortage of available homes meant there were 96 applications for each social housing property in Whitby.

In Runswick Bay’s lower village, he said, there were only 11 permanent residents and the remaining properties were holiday lets or second homes.

“Whitby people cannot afford to purchase a home in their own town,” he said. “We’ve built a lot of homes in Whitby recently and they’ve all been snapped up by outsiders.

“A lot have gone to second homes; a lot have gone to holiday homes and to holiday lets, and it’s tearing the heart out of communities. Our village communities are suffering greatly.”

Janet Jefferson, a North Yorkshire independent councillor, said she was dealing with “constant calls” from residents being evicted from properties that “have suddenly become holiday homes”.

“They are getting rid of people that have rented for years because they can make more money,” she said.

Jefferson said houses in her coastal ward were being turned into holiday homes “every day” without the need for planning permission, adding: “It’s affecting our communities. It’s breaking up our communities.”

Local authorities in Wales have in effect been able to double council tax bills on second homes since April 2017.

Earlier this year, the devolved Welsh government changed the law to allow councils to impose 300% premiums, meaning a £1,000 bill would become £4,000.

Owners of second homes in Gwynedd, north-west Wales, were told on Wednesday they would have to pay a 150% premium from next April under plans put forward by the local authority.

Ioan Thomas, Gwynedd council’s finance cabinet member, said the additional money would go towards tackling homelessness, which he said had risen by 47% in the area over the last two years.

English councils warn of ‘existential crisis’ caused by funding shortfall

Local authorities have warned they face an “existential crisis” caused by massive funding shortfalls and any attempt by ministers to patch up budgets by allowing increased council tax is doomed to failure.

Patrick Butler www.theguardian.com 

The multibillion “black hole” in England’s municipal finances – which has pushed a number of councils to the brink of bankruptcy – could not be fixed by local ratepayers alone, who would face unrealistic council tax increases of up to 20%, the Local Government Association (LGA) said.

Privately, many in local government believe few authorities would take the political risk of raising council tax even marginally above current cap levels when many of their residents are struggling in the middle of a brutal cost of living crisis.

Reports earlier this week suggested the government would attempt to head off the financial crisis by announcing in Thursday’s autumn statement that it would lift the long-established cap limiting annual council tax rises to 2.99% plus 1% for social care.

Local government insiders believe that even relatively small council tax rises above current cap levels would be unfair on ratepayers and unlikely to raise the sums needed to address the crisis. Each 1% rise would generate £309m for English councils, barely touching the sides of the shortfall, the LGA estimates.

Two true-blue Tory county councils, Kent and Hampshire, sent shock waves through Westminster this week when they told the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, that they were “sleepwalking into financial disaster”, with the crisis enveloping local government putting them and other authorities at risk of bankruptcy in the coming months.

They called for emergency help for councils alongside a clear plan for “long-term sustainability”. However, there is speculation ministers will announce this year’s council funding allocation will be “rolled over” to next April, leaving town halls to cut local services or raise council tax to try to balance their budgets.

There are concerns that any reliance on council tax to meet rising costs is unequitable because the most deprived areas of the country – where demand for services is highest – are least able to raise the funds they need.

The LGA chair, James Jamieson, said: “Local government remains the fabric of our country but many of the vital services we provide face an existential crisis.” Failing to provide long-term funding certainty would force councils to make significant cuts to services next April, including care for older and disabled people, child protection, homelessness prevention, leisure centres and bin collections, he added.

“While council tax is an important funding stream, it has never been the solution to the long-term pressures facing councils, raising different amounts in different parts of the country – unrelated to need – and adding to the financial pressures facing households,” he said.

The LGA estimates that English councils face a collective £2.4bn shortfall in budgets this year because of unexpectedly high inflation in staff pay, energy costs and contract prices. Without government intervention, the shortfall will rise to £3.4bn in 2023-24 and £4.5bn in 2024-25.

In a further sign of the bleak financial environment facing councils, local authority adult social care bosses said on Tuesday they had neither the funding nor the workforce to meet the needs of older and disabled people this winter.

The annual autumn survey carried out by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services found nine out of 10 directors would struggle to cope with existing resources. One in 10 care worker posts were vacant, while collectively they were making an additional £113m of cuts on top of £597m savings already announced.

Cathie Williams, the association’s chief executive, said: “This is the bleakest autumn survey we have ever had. Only a handful of directors have any confidence they may be able to get through the winter with the funding they have and the care workers available locally.

“We were fearful in the summer; we are fearful now. This affects all of us.”

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 31 October