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Julia Hilton

Julia Hilton, spokesperson for Hastings Greens.

Solar panels in Hastings Country Park – ecology or politics?

Hastings Borough Council (HBC), with its majority of Labour councillors, has proposed to put two arrays of solar panels in the Country Park and one at Upper Wilting Farm in Crowhurst. Amber Rudd, Hastings and Rye Conservative MP, has launched a petition against this. HOT’s Chandra Masoliver asks Julia Hilton, spokesperson for Hastings Green Party, for her thoughts on the ecological and political issues involved.

CM: Are you in favour of installing solar panels?

JH: Yes, particularly for rooftop solar. To encourage solar power development there has been a domestic rooftop feed-in tariff subsidy, allowing money back for every skilowatt generated. The roof owner has the benefit of free energy and the rest goes into the grid. Currently the tariffs give three financial benefits:

  • A payment for all the electricity you produce, even if you use it yourself.
  • Additional bonus payments for electricity you export into the grid.
  • A reduction on your standard electricity bill, from using energy you produce yourself.

For example, Ore College will save roughly £4,250 on its annual energy bills once the photovoltaic panels are installed. Previously the return was noteworthy, now it is only four pence per kilowatt, and unfortunately this is going to be stopped altogether this March.

However there is still some hope for us here, in that Energise Sussex Coast (ESC), because they are a Community Benefit Society, have another year in which to install rooftop solar and still receive a subsidy, as long as the roof is pre-registered before 29 March. This is a relatively simple procedure. Joint working with the Council and access to their low interest finance could allow many more rooftop schemes to be installed.

The Council own many buildings but just don’t have the capacity to do any more installations before this March. Joint working with ESC would give us another year to get many more solar roofs across the town, on community buildings, the hospital and many more industrial estates.

Currently people can invest in community shares and become a member of Brighton Energy Coop, who are installing the rooftop solar panels on Ore College. Similar coops could be set up in Hastings.

We will be seeing a lot more solar panels, but the sites to use are along our motorways and roads like the link road, along parts of railway lines, on brownfield sites, etc. The schemes in West Sussex referred to in the Council report have used an old airfield and a landfill site. Solar energy will become less expensive and increasingly efficient.

What do you think of HBC’s chosen site in the Country Park, and should they be more consultative as to suitable sites?

JH: I have reservations about any solar panels in the Country Park. The Council has tried to select the least contentious site, and it’s great that HBC is looking into local renewable energy. However it is politically inept to consider using such a well-loved site as it may alienate a lot of people from the very necessary discussion on how we fight climate breakdown. There should have been a town-wide open discussion around the ways forward for Hastings to develop a low-carbon future.

At the very least there needs to be consultation with Natural England, who are statutory consultees on any development in the Country Park. I am surprised this hadn’t happened before seeking to spend money on feasibility studies. I was glad to hear Peter Chowney ask for this consultation to take place before any further money is spent.

We, the Green Party, have been asking Hastings to declare a climate emergency. Regarding the proposed solar panels, and many other things that affect the town, we need a Citizen’s Assembly. We need a much more open forum on how we fight climate breakdown.

It is not enough to listen to HBC discuss and make decisions at an event where the public are offered no route to join in the debate. Because of this, people can only be reactive and get angry and frustrated, they can only protest, rather than be part of the discussion.

What is your opinion of Amber Rudd launching an appeal? Is this turning into a political issue?

It is a great shame that this petition was launched as a political opportunity, rather than coming from a local community – for example the Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve.

For the Conservatives to launch a petition when they are the party that have made rooftop solar energy less viable is hypocritical.

Also it is the Conservative Party that promotes fossil-fuel mining and is trying to override local people’s ability to fight fracking proposals. By removing a local Council’s decision-making power, they have undermined local democracy. This does not bode well for the environment.

 

Link to sign the Greens’ climate emergency letter here.

Link to invest in the community energy offer to fund solar panels on the roof of Ore College.

 

Posted 18:49 Saturday, Jan 12, 2019 In: Energy