Tens of thousands of taxpayers' money could be owed to council

Tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money could be owed to Warwick District Council for electricity generated by its own solar panels.

Monday, 20th June 2016, 12:44 pm
Updated Monday, 20th June 2016, 3:42 pm
From left to right: Derrick Knight with Tamie and Rick Agutter

The news was uncovered by Green Party campaigner Derrick Knight, whose suspicions were raised when he met Rick and Tamie Agutter, a couple who had bought a house and solar panels in Whitnash from the council in 2014.

The couple are entitled to receive payment from energy company SSE for power generated, but so far that has not arrived.

Derrick said: “I was door-knocking in the area for completely different reasons when it came up in conversation that they’ve never received payment from SSE for the electricity their panels generated - it’s taken four months to sort out.”

The couple did not want to buy the panels initially, only doing so because they wanted to convert their loft and were told it they had to buy them to make it happen.

But since they bought the panels, SSE never gave a penny to the couple for the electricity generated until Derrick’s intervention.

Tamie said: “If it wasn’t for Derrick I’d probably still be battling this. He was the only one who got through to someone at SSE.

“It was the most stressful time ever, and if I bought my house over again I wouldn’t buy the panels.”

Derrick investigated further and found the council installed 186 solar systems across the district in 2011/12 for which SSE was withholding payments on.

To claim payment, the council had to submit quarterly meter readings to SSE from all of the solar panel systems, who would then pay them back. This is known as a ‘Feed-in Tariff.’

The council decided to install remote-reading technology for each of the 186 meters as sending someone out four times a year would be very difficult.

However, for a long time SSE refused to accept remote readings and it was only an intervention by energy regulator Ofgem that meant payments could be made.

In a statement, a spokesman for Warwick District Council (WDC) said: “To claim payment the council is required to submit quarterly readings from each meter and this forms the basis for the payment. To overcome the logistical problem of reading 186 meters each quarter, a decision was made to invest in remote reading technology that allows the collection of accurate data.

“Unfortunately a situation developed whereby the tariff provider for a period of time was unwilling to accept remote readings.

“This was widespread problem and not confined to WDC properties. An intervention by Ofgem was necessary to break the impasse. This has now been concluded and remote readings are accepted without physical verification. The process of securing monies owing is underway.”

A spokesman for SSE said: “The meters in question were previously located in the properties’ lofts meaning that our insurance policies would not allow SSE to do an inspection in person.

“An inspection is required before remote readings are allowed to take place. 176 of the 186 meters have now been moved, meaning inspections can now take place.

“Warwick District Council has been asked for a reading for the month of June and once that happens payment will be arranged, including back pay for the months where the payment was suspended.”