Sarah Mukherjee, the BBC News Environment correspondent reports that environmental campaigners are astonished at the government’s decision to suspend a scheme which gave grants to schools, hospitals and other public buildings to switch to renewable energy. The Low Carbon Buildings Programme has apparently been too popular – particularly with those hoping to install solar panels. Staff at Great Missenden School in Buckinghamshire had hoped that their application for a grant to put up solar PV panels would be considered, but now they’ve been told they’ve missed out. “They’ve run out of money – it’s been very popular,” says Margaret Dixon, the school’s librarian, who’s been heading up the application. “It would obviously be lovely if we could get some money because it’s such a wonderful technology and such an example to the local community to have it happening here at the school.”We were also hoping for solar panels on the church as well, which would have been great for Great Missenden as a whole.”
The school is hoping it might get some funding from the National Lottery, but, like many others, it now finds itself having to look for other forms of cash for its solar plans. Alan Brookes, headmaster of Fulston Manor School in Sittingbourne in Kent says the school’s solar panels have cut electricity bills by between five and 10% but also says that the educational benefits have been just as significant. “Children were going home talking to their parents about it, parents got interested, community groups came, and you begin the dialogue,” he says. “If you can raise the awareness, then you’ve done a major job.” Those within the renewable energy industry say this state of affairs is no surprise. The Renewable Energy Association says it warned the government in February that the money within the scheme was going to run out for PV. They say cash allocated for other renewable technologies is likely to remain unspent, because nobody has applied for it. but the government has not re-allocated this cash to the ultra-popular solar PV, so, the association says, it is likely that about £8m of funding will simply end up going back to the Treasury. Ed Matthew, from Friends of the Earth, is in no doubt about just how fast we are moving towards the low carbon economy spoken of by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and the prime minister. “It almost defies belief,” he says. “We have to almost completely decarbonise the energy system in the UK in the next 20 to 30 years to avoid catastrophic climate change … meanwhile, the government appears to be taking the renewables industry apart.” And others point out that this is not the first time such grants have been over-subscribed. In the past, the government’s funding schemes for domestic renewable energy projects proved so popular that the money ran out within hours of it becoming available. Renewable energy experts say it has all been disastrous and could leave the UK at a competitive disadvantage in the future.