Power to the People; Fuel Bills Are Rocketing and Fossil Fuels Are Disappearing, So No Wonder More of Us Are Fitting Solar Panels and Wind Turbines ... but Is It Affordable?

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), April 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Power to the People; Fuel Bills Are Rocketing and Fossil Fuels Are Disappearing, So No Wonder More of Us Are Fitting Solar Panels and Wind Turbines ... but Is It Affordable?


Byline: JO THORNHILL

Forget the laminate flooring, the latest musthave for the home is a small wind turbine - and it could even bring in a little income. A survey by the Energy Saving Trust, a nonprofit organisation that raises awareness of sustainable power, found that 86 per cent of people would consider installing green technology in their home to reduce bills.

The Strawbridge family, the stars of BBC2's It's Not Easy Being Green, have fascinated millions of viewers with their eco-friendly lifestyle. Dick and Brigit and their children, James and Charlotte, built a water wheel and erected wind turbines to provide heating and lighting for their home in Cornwall.

And as gas and electricity bills rocket and fossil fuels dwindle, there has never been a stronger argument for investing in renewable sources of energy.

The Government is even ready to foot part of the bill. But what are the options for those who want to be greener - and what will it cost?

In his Budget last month, Gordon Brown announced an extra [pounds sterling]50 million on top of [pounds sterling]30 million already pledged over the next three years towards grants for installing wind turbines, solar panels, solar water heating or ground-source heat pumps. But most of this will go to schools, community projects and small businesses.

The Government wants 20 per cent of the country's electricity to come from renewable sources within the next 15 years and up to 40 per cent within 50 years.

The money is available through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme. Grants for solar panels are a maximum of [pounds sterling]3,000 per kilowatt installed up to a maximum of [pounds sterling]15,000 and subject to an overall maximum of 50 per cent of the total installation cost.

For wind turbines, homeowners can apply for [pounds sterling]1,000 per kilowatt installed up to [pounds sterling]5,000 subject to a maximum of 30 per cent of the total cost. In Scotland, there are grants of up to 30 per cent of any installation cost up to a maximum of [pounds sterling]4,000. Applications can be made through the Scottish Community and Householder Renewables Initiative or the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, but not both.

The Energy Saving Trust says applicants must already have installed cavity wall insulation and fitted low-energy light bulbs. They must also have roof insulation at least 12 inches thick.

Grants are not paid in advance, so it is important to check eligibility and use an approved supplier and installer, and be sure you will get funding before any installation work is begun.

You will need to get permission from your local planning authority for a wind turbine and the agreement of neighbours. Solar panels do not need planning permission.

More information on wind turbines as well as the Low Carbon Buildings Programme is available at bwea.com/small and the Energy Saving Trust website at est.org.uk, or lowcarbon buildings.org.uk. In Scotland, go to est.org.uk/schri.

Matt Hocking is keen that all the energy he needs for his home and graphic design business comes from renewable sources, but he has not needed to fit solar panels or wind turbines. Matt, 34, who left his job at the Eden Project near St Austell, Cornwall, to be with his partner Claire Gardner and set up his own business, receives his power from Good Energy, a company that supplies only electricity generated from renewable sources.

'As a keen surfer who cares about the environment and someone who aims to be as eco-aware as possible in my business, getting energy from 100 per cent-renewable sources is important,' he says.

Matt lives with Claire in Market Lavington, Wiltshire, with their tenmonthold daughter, Bo, and Claire's eight-year-old son, Max. She is expecting another child in June.

He says: 'I don't work with companies that aren't taking steps to be more environmentally conscious, such as using recycled paper and materials and minimising waste. …

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