Council solar farm performing above expectation ‘is generating miserable return’, critic claims
- Credit: Archant
One of the UK’s largest local authority-owned solar farms has come under fire from a councillor who claims it has generated a “miserable return” on taxpayers’ investment.
Now in its second year, Toggam Farm, a 12.4MW solar farm at Lakenheath acquired by Forest Heath District Council in 2016 for £14.5m, has generated more than £1.3m in income. Once various costs are taken into account, £372,300 of this has been ploughed back into council services.
But Victor Lukaniuk, Suffolk County Councillor for Brandon, Santon Downham and Elveden, and Forest Heath district councillor in Brandon West, an independent who was a Brandon town councillor but not a district or county council at the time of the decision, said it was a “questionable” investment.
“The solar farm produced a profit of £372,300 during the financial year 2017/2018 on an investment of £14.5m. That is a return of about 2.5% after hefty costs,” he said.
“By anybody’s standards that is a pretty miserable return. Last year 2016/2017 the profit was £308,000 or a 2.1% return. Even with this generous sunshine the solar farm struggles.”
But Conservative councillor Stephen Edwards, who is cabinet member for resources and performance at Forest Heath District Council, said the council had to look for alternative ways to generate income to maintain services following reductions in its central government grant.
“The decision to invest in the solar farm was a unanimous one of the full council and received cross party support. It was based on a business case which saw the levels of income in the first few years coming in at around ?£1m or so,” he said.
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“We are gradually recouping the capital outlay while at the same time using some of that income to support vital public services.”
He pointed out that in the business model approved by full council, the level of funds for public services in year two was predicted to be ?£330,000, but the scheme had in fact generated an additional ?£40,000.
“Using this same model the solar farm will be creating ?£700,000 to support public services by year 10. This will reflect an annual return of around 5% by year 10.”
The council had also committed to supporting forms of renewable energy, and better air quality, he said.