£375,000 of panels being offered to anyone who wants them

Solar panels on Barnstaple's Civic Centre which cost £375,000 of public money are now being given away free to anyone who wants them.

Devon County Council is taking down the centre's 300 solar panels a decade after they were put up, having raised nowhere near what it cost to install them.

They are being taken down to repair the building, as county staff are now staying put and will be moving into the refurbished annex.

The panels won't be reinstalled but instead have been offered to community organisations.

The building was clad in panels in 2005 in a project led by North Devon Council and thanks to a grant from the Department of Trade and Industry.

In 2011 the Gazette reported how the system was not working due to inactive panels.

DCC said at the time the potential maximum saving a year was £3,600, depending on electricity costs, so over 10 years it will not have paid for itself.

In 2003, an NDDC report said it would be 'a centre of excellence for the development and promotion of renewable energy technologies'.

District Councillor Paul Crabb told the Gazette the pilot project had been 'financial madness': "It's a shame that it has turned out to be a total waste of money," he said.

The panels on offer are more than 10 years old, with no warranty, are not eligible for the Feed in Tariff subsidy and anyone who takes them on will need to pay for installation and extra equipment such as inverters.

Mr Crabb added: "The system, labour and inverter are 90 per cent of the cost of installation. Even with a new panel, if it does not come with the right subsidies, it's not financially viable to fit."

North Devon Council's executive member for the environment, Councillor Rodney Cann, said the project was part of a Government funded initiative led by the then Department for Trade and Industry dating back to 2003.

"I would hope and expect that Devon County Council, as owners of the building, would ensure that the panels are reused appropriately when they are removed to facilitate necessary building works," he said.