Solar cuts spark anger from Berger

By Jessica Elgot, November 10, 2011
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Shadow Climate Change Minister Luciana Berger said government was "undermining" Jewish social action projects

Shadow Climate Change Minister Luciana Berger said government was "undermining" Jewish social action projects

Synagogues, Jewish charities and youth movements could loses thousands in potential income as a scheme to fund solar panels on Jewish community buildings is jeopardised by a government turn-around.

Shadow Climate Change Minister Luciana Berger and the Jewish Leadership council criticised the government for "undermining" Jewish social action projects.

Charities like Jewish Care were planning to take advantage of the scheme, where community buildings that install solar panels can get money from their energy supplier, known as a Feed-In-Tariff.

Jewish social action movements JHub and the Big Green Jewish had secured £15,000 in funding for their "Solar Action" project, to help the community install the panels and make money from the scheme.

But the government now plans to slash incentives for solar installations, and significantly reduced tariffs, that were scheduled to apply from April next year, will now apply to all projects completed after December 12 this year. Communities are unable to meet the new deadline.

Ms Berger, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said: "The government has failed to stand up to the energy giants over pricing; and now are undermining projects like The Big Green Jewish and JHub which aim to be more self-sufficient by investing in new energy; reducing harmful emissions and delivering thousands of pounds for social action projects.

"In opposition, the Conservatives promised a more ambitious scheme of Feed-in Tariffs, instead they've cut them by over half. This is yet another broken promise."

North West Surrey and West London synagogues, Bromley Reform and Hendon Reform, were in the final stages of applying for funding from JHub, as were youth movement Habonim Dror.

New North London executive director Claire Mandel said the shul had also hoped to install the panels, but were no longer sure it was "a viable investment, which is very frustrating."

Under the proposed "Solar Action" scheme, JHub would pay £9,000 in initial start-up costs if the organisation puts in £6,000. Over 25 years, each organisation would have made approximately £29,000 for community projects from energy income.

Jewish Care had commissioned a £10,000 report into installing solar equipment across nine buildings, based on guaranteed returns from the government. The new panels would have generated an income of £35,000 annually. Property director Jeff Andrews said: "It is lucky we hadn't committed to any contracts, which would have been a disaster, quite frankly. It is frustrating the government have slashed the cut-off date, we have no way of meeting that deadline."

Solar Action co-ordinator David Brown said the original scheme would have meant nearly half a million pounds extra for the community overall. "The government proposing to shift the deadline in this way has jeopardized the Solar Action scheme and threatens to thwart a huge contribution to the 'Big Society' they ostensibly want charities and communities to build." Project leaders are now reassessing how the scheme could work.

Despite the new deadline, a spokeswoman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said the change was still under consultation until December 23, and they would take issues that community projects were having into consideration.

Jewish Leadership Council Chief Executive Jeremy Newmark said it had also been promoting the Feed-In-Tariff to a number of communal charities. "Arbitrarily pushing forward a cut in the Feed in Tariff will potentially impact both financially and environmentally for a number of Jewish charities and schools," he said.

"We will be supporting JSAF in trying to persuade the government to realise that these proposals should be reconsidered."

But West London synagogue executive director Simon Myers said his community would push on with their application regardless. "For us, it wasn't just about the extra income. Our members are very excited about the good this scheme can do for the environment."

    Last updated: 1:31pm, November 10 2011