Couple say that cuts to the Feed-in-Tariff scheme will quash enthusiasm for home-based renewable energy projects

A NORTH Devon couple has warned that the Government’s proposed cuts to feed-in-tariff payments could herald the “death knell” for DIY renewable energy schemes.

Farmers Hugh and Barbara Fryer have now joined a mad rush of homeowners vying to install solar panels in less than four weeks.

Under new plans announced last month, subsidies will be halved for schemes not up and running by midnight on December 11, rather than March 31 as expected.

Should the Fryers not meet next month’s deadline, their FiT payments for electricity exported back to the National Grid would drop from 32.9p per kWh to 15.2p.

They estimate that it could cost them in the region of £70,000 during the 25-year life span of a 20kW array they hope to install at their organic beef farm near Atherington.

“The Government has moved the goalposts and it could seriously affect the sustainability of our farm if we don’t get the scheme up and running in time,” said Mrs Fryer, 49.

“It’s such a shame but if we miss out we’ll have to seriously think about whether it will still be worthwhile to proceed with the plans. We’d lose our deposit but if we went ahead we would lose nearer £70,000 and not even cover the cost of having the panels over 25 years.

“It’s going to be the death knell for people being enthusiastic about renewable energy on their land. I imagine we’re not the only ones in this position. It will affect an awful lot of people, especially those who have taken out bank loans to pay for the installation.”

Mr Fryer, 51, said the Government’s “surprise” announcement had caught them “on the hop” but he also criticised council planners for dragging their feet over a decision on their application.

“It’s been in the pipeline for months and the main spanner in the works has been the council delaying the decision,” he said.

“We submitted our planning application to North Devon Council on July 15 and we’re still waiting for permission. If we don’t get a decision by next week, we won’t be able to install it in time.

“Every time we call the council to check the progress they come back at us with another question about the scheme.”

The council said it was currently dealing with a number of applications for solar PV panels and was aware of the tightness of the deadline.

A spokesperson said: “We are working hard to resolve them as quickly as we can. However, there are certain time frames we have to work within to ensure that the applications are advertised and consulted upon.

“We have been receiving lots of calls from applicants keen to find out when their applications will be determined and we have been assuring them that we are working as fast as we can.

“Unfortunately, every time we answer the phone is time taken away from determining the applications, so it would be beneficial if applicants could be as patient as possible.”

The couple said they hoped their scheme would boost the sustainable “ethos” of their farm.

“We want to contribute more than just a few solar panels on the roof; we want to generate enough energy for ourselves and to export what we don’t need back to the grid,” said Mr Fryer.

“It would make a massive difference to us but the biggest worry now is that it’s not going to be up and running in time.”

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As the Gazette went to press yesterday afternoon, Mrs Fryer said it had been indicated to them that their planning application had been approved, but the official letter had not arrived. They hoped to be able to beat the Government deadline.