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Ludwell primary school, Wiltshire, is a participant in 10:10's Solar Schools programme which has seen sales of over 15,000 cakes to help schools raise the funds to install solar panels
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Back to school? Schools that have installed solar panels threatened with an unfair tax bill

Ecologist reporter

5th September, 2015

How comes doing 'the right thing' comes with hidden costs? For state schools planning to go solar this year the business rate hike would reduce the lifetime return of the panels to zero or even negative, while those that have have already installed solar panels face an unexpected tax bill in excess of £800 a year.

Mumsnet has backed Solar Schools right from the beginning, because it seems like a no-brainer to us: clean energy, revenue for schools, and clever on-site tech to get young minds interested in the future of energy - Justine Roberts, CEO Mumsnet

Schools across the UK who have invested in solar panels could be facing surprise tax bills of over £800 next spring according to research by the climate change charity, 10:10.

This new tax will disproportionately (and unfairly) only affect state schools, as private schools, free schools and academies are exempt due to their charitable status.

The Solar Trade Association - learnt of sharp increases to business rates for rooftop solar in July - has been campaigning for ministers to intervene ever since.

And the news follows drastic cuts to support for solar last summer which saw 12,000 jobs in UK solar industry lost and the closure of the UK's world-leading Solar Schools programme.

According to new calculations by the climate change charity, 10:10, schools which have invested in a ten kilowatt solar rig (around 40-50 panels) will have to pay £803.35 in business rates.

Previously, the small solar installations favoured by many schools were not taxed at all. Those with larger rigs - around 200 panels and more - already pay business rates, but could see bills rise to six to eight times last year's figures.

Schools who managed to install before the solar cuts hit were still hoping to be able to pay back the cost of the panels in 5-8 years. If the changes to business rates go ahead, 10:10 estimates it will now take upwards of 10 years. And for schools planning to go solar this year, despite the cuts, the charity warns  that the new tax hike would reduce the lifetime return of the panels to near zero. They might even make a negative return.

These proposals are nonsensical!

This week also marks the official closure of Solar Schools which was established in 2011 and which has, since then, installed over 2,000 panels on 80 schools, working with over 30,000 pupils and raising over £700,000 in the process.

The 10:10 team estimate over 15,000 cakes were sold at Solar Schools fundraising events in the last five years. The total 592 kilowatts of solar power this amounts to should save nearly 4,000 tonnes of CO2 over the next 25 years.

Cecily Spelling, Solar Schools project manager at 10:10 says: "This new tax hike is just nonsensical. It's punishing those that have already installed solar and discouraging more in the future.

"Solar Schools is about so much more than just generating energy - it brings communities together and gets people excited about the positive things they can do to tackle climate change. It's also a brilliant resource for science, technology and maths education."

Richard and Karen Ecclestone, both governors at Ludwell Primary School in Wiltshire echo her sentiments: "Ludwell Primary school has already generated over 9,200 kWh of clean, green electricity and saved 5,200 kg of CO2 thanks to their panels, installed in September 2015.

"It's been an exciting success story that we should be celebrating instead we've learned there is the threat of a massive hike in the business rates for our Local Authority school, just because we've done the right thing by investing in renewable technology.

"This technology is insulating us against future price hikes and allowing us to boost our budget - something we know government isn't going to offer anytime soon. With the feed-in tariff changes dampening schools' options for installing solar already, we can assume that this anomaly is surely not the Government's intention and urge immediate action to exempt Local Authority schools from this punitive tax."

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, former Schools Commissioner for London adds: "I know many of the schools involved in Solar Schools and I'm hugely impressed by its impact on community involvement and how it motivates students ... Every school should be able to find a champion to move it from their wish list to reality."

10:10 Solar Schools Programme

As well as cutting carbon and boosting budgets, Solar Schools offers a host of opportunities for science, technology and maths education. Research conducted in partnership with NESTA - a charity that works to increase innovation in the UK - also showed Solar School participants felt more engaged in taking action on climate change with over 70% changing their behavior to conserve energy and with all participants reporting that the project had helped foster a sense of community.

Solar Schools has worked with numerous partners to make the project happen including Good Energy, Mumsnet, Lush, NESTA, the Tudor trust, the ERANDA Foundation, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Bertha Foundation.

Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet says: "Mumsnet has backed Solar Schools right from the beginning, because it seems like a no-brainer to us: clean energy, revenue for schools, and clever on-site tech to get young minds interested in the future of energy. We're really proud to be a partner and it's been great watching it go from strength to strength."

The Maths:

If the proposed changes go ahead in April 2017, 10:10 calculates that schools will have to pay £823.35 for a 10kw rig, a year - £550 of rateable value and a rates bill of £273.35.

10kw x £1,250 (capital cost assumption £/kw) x 4.4% (decapitalisation rate) = 550.

550 - 49.7% = 273.35. 550 + 273.35 = £823.35 in business rate payments a year.

For more on Solar Schools visit 1010uk.org

 

 

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