IT was just in the nick of time.
Workmen managed to install 208 solar panels at Huddersfield’s Kingsgate Shopping Centre – just days before Government subsidies were slashed by nearly half.
Centre manager Jonathan Hardy, said that Holmfirth wind and solar engineers, Newgen UK, pulled out all the stops so the photovoltaic panels were up and running before December 12.
Any panels running before the cut-off date will make 43p for every kilowatt of electricity they generate, as part of the Government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme. But anything installed after the date will receive just the new rate of 21p.
Mr Hardy said: “It all became a little bit more urgent when the Government recently announced it was cutting the Feed-in Tariff by almost 50%.
“We were in a bit of a rush to get it all in before December, 12, but everything was up and running by December 8.”
Mr Hardy first came up with the idea two months ago, after a visit to Cummins Turbo Technologies, where they have 256 solar panels on the roof of their St Andrew’s Road building.
The Kingsgate panels cost £100,000 to install on the Cross Church Street shopping centre and the work took about two weeks.
The set is predicted to generate 43,000KWh a year – 5% of the previous energy consumption in the building’s common areas.
Mr Hardy said: “It’s better than nothing and what we were trying to achieve is to offset some of the carbon we are using.
“We were lucky that we had sufficient roof space and that it was south-facing.
“Newgen UK assured us that they could finish the project in time.
“It has been a great test with the strong winds recently – our hearts were in our mouths that one was going to come off – but they have all remained intact.”
Mr Hardy said that if he had thought they were going to miss the cut-off date he wouldn’t have gone ahead with the solar panel installation.
Ministers say the unexpected cut to the Feed-in Tariff – of nearly 50% – was necessary to make small-scale renewable subsidies sustainable.
But Mr Hardy said it wouldn’t have been financially viable.
Currently Kingsgate is looking at a seven-eight-year payback period.
But if they had not installed the panels by the cut-off date it would have taken 15 years to pay back the cost of the solar panels and begin making money from them.
Mr Hardy said: “If the costs of the raw materials for the panels remain the same as they are now then people are going to be put off fitting panels because the payback time isn’t going to be as attractive.
“But I think that possibly the cost of the panels will reduce – it will probably never be quite as attractive as it was before – but it will reduce the payback time”.