24/04 enviro spread DG

WHILE many people think the future of the global environment is in the hands of the younger generations, a new breed of “pensioner greens” are demonstrating that all ages can play a part - especially if it makes good financial sense.

Ken and May Brock are among those who are taking advantage of a new Government scheme which provides a long-term, guaranteed income for all the small-scale renewable energy they can generate - regardless of whether it is fed into the grid or used in their own home.

The scheme is aimed at helping to achieve a target of the UK producing 15% of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020.

It pays homeowners for each kilowatt–hour of electricity produced from renewable sources - about four times the market cost.

The new “feed-in” tariff became effective from April 1 and makes a great deal of economic sense for those willing and able to make the investment in technology such as solar panels, photo-voltaic cells or small wind turbines.

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The Clean Energy Cash-back scheme is open householders, businesses, communities, farmers, schools and hospitals - anyone who want to generate “green” electricity from renewable installations up to five mega-watts in size (equivalent to two large commercial wind turbines) although the payments vary by technology and size.

Pensioners on a fixed income but with savings are among those who are often in a position to introduce green technology – not only to save money but to play their part in reducing the national reliance on power stations which burn fossil fuels, producing global warming gases.

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Mr and Mrs Brock, of Kesgrave, already had solar panels on their bungalow, producing hot water. Now they have had photovoltaic (PV) cells – to convert the sun’s energy into electricity - installed and the investment is expected to save about �900 a year on their electricity bill.

The couple, who have three children and four grand-children, were rubbing their hands with glee during the spell of sunny weather earlier this month.

For they are earning up to 41.3p for every kilowatt hour of electricity the cells produce. And if they produce so much energy they feed some back into the grid they will receive a 3p a kilowatt hour bonus. All the income is tax-free.

According to East Green Energy, Kelsale, the firm which installed the PVs for the Brocks, the cells should generate about 1,750 kilowatt hours a year.

The firm estimates the system could generate a profit of more than �19,000 over the next 25 years if electricity prices continue to rise at five percent a year.

This figure may even prove an under-estimate, given the recent warnings from Ofgem, the industry regulator, of a looming energy crisis

Mr Brock, a retired building surveyor, said he hoped the PV cells would generate about half the electricity used in his home:

“The overall cost of the installation was �11,000 for which I received a �2,500 grant from the Government as well as an interest-free loan for �4,000 from Suffolk Costal District Council.”

Mr Brock, who was born in Ipswich, went to the town’s Civic College and worked for many years for Tolly Cobbold, said: “I thought it would be mostly young people taking advantage of this scheme but it seems to be mainly people in my age group – people who haven’t got a mortgage and have the opportunity to do things like this.

His interest in renewable technology goes back a long way. In the 1950s and 60s, while studying building construction, he learned about ground and air-sourced heat pumps. In the late 1960s he seriously thought about installing a heat pump for domestic use but never went ahead.

“When I first looked into installing PV panels, the maths didn’t add up. But now, with the technical improvements in renewable energy and the feed-in tariffs, it means mean we will recoup expenditure within ten years,” Mr Brock said.

He expects the PVs to generate about half of the electricity he and his wife use in their home.

Mr Brock would like to see renewable energy installations included in all new buildings – preventing the need for at least some new power stations.

Linda Grave, East Green Energy spokeswoman, said: “We are seeing a real increase in interest in renewable energy from the over 60s. On a fixed income it really makes sense.”

She added: “Going green is no longer just about the environment. This legislation means you can make money by becoming a mini generator. Rising oil prices means people are more concerned about their carbon footprint for the sake of their bank balance, rather than the environment.

“With bank interest rates at an all-time low, people can make a very healthy return of seven to ten percent by investing in a suitable form of renewable energy in their home.”

Friends of the Earth, which led the campaign for a micro-generation payment scheme, believes it will make small-scale green electricity technologies an attractive investment for home-owners, housing associations and some businesses, cutting energy bills and creating new jobs in the clean energy sector.

A YouGov survey for Friends of the Earth, the Renewable Energy Association and the Co-operative Group, published in January, revealed that 71 per cent of homeowners said they would consider installing green energy systems if the feed- in tariff scheme was generous enough.

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director, Andy Atkins said: “This new scheme is a tremendous opportunity for people across the UK to play their part in the green energy revolution - and earn tax-free money too.

“The Clean Energy cash-back scheme will allow householders to earn tax-free cash by turning their homes into mini green power stations, cut fuel bills and play their part in tackling climate change.

“UK homes are responsible for over a fifth of UK emissions, but by slashing energy waste, and fitting renewable electricity systems such as solar panels on our roofs and wind turbines in our gardens, they can be part of the solution to climate change.

The scheme also covers other green technologies such as water turbines (in rivers or old water mills) and anaerobic digesters, which make electricity and heat from burning the gas produced by degrading organic waste.

Friends of the Earth is calling on which ever party wins the General Election to be more ambitious and increase the support to all small scale renewable electricity technologies and larger community owned schemes.

“The scheme launched today means small-scale renewable technologies are predicted to provide just two per cent of the UK’s electricity by 2020. While this is welcome, it is inadequate. Friends of the Earth has shown that a stronger scheme could see six per cent of UK electricity generated by these technologies by 2020 or two and half times the output of Sizewell B nuclear power station,” Mr Atkins added.

By April 2011 solar thermal and heat pumps will also be eligible for payment under another scheme announced by the Government.

Home owners must use an MCS (Micro generation certification scheme) accredited company to be eligible for “feed in” payments.

To find out more about the Clean Energy Cash-back scheme log on to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk

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