Community energy group ditches solar farm plans

The REPOWERBalcombe group has dropped plans to build a 5 MW solar farm, blaming a decision to scrap tax relief for community energy projects.

Mid Sussex District Council granted planning permission for the scheme in October, which would have seen the solar farm built at Chiddinglye farm, just outside of West Hoathly.

But the REPOWERBalcombe group announced this week were ‘just hours away’ from buying the rights to achieve the scheme, when the Government revealed it was removing tax relief for such projects.

“REPOWERBalcombe volunteers have been working hard to work within these new boundaries in order to make the project work but sadly the time constraints forced upon us by the legislative changes have made it impossible to proceed with the solar farm as a community owned project,” said the group on its website.

“The two single biggest factors were the review and uncertainty around subsidy rates – introducing financial viability risk, and removal of tax relief for investors – increasing the risk of raising the large sums of money to fund the project,” added the group.

“The positive news is that the developers are still working to secure the capital to get the site built and operational, so there should still be local renewably generated electricity.”

Labour's Shadow Treasury Minister, Rebecca Long-Bailey, said George Osborne appears to be “deliberately attempting to kill off the community energy movement via this back door amendment to the Finance Bill”. 

“This pioneering sector has already been hit by a raft of other destructive and unexpected policy changes since the election,” said Ms Long-Bailey.

"Denying community energy groups access to both the Enterprise Investment Scheme tax relief and Social Investment Tax Relief could well be the final nail in the coffin for future projects.”

Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, specializing in local government, transport and energy issues