Reading schools may face solar panels bills

20 April 2017

New Town Primary School, yesterday

Schools in Reading could soon face business rate bills under a tax hike for properties with solar panels, research by the Green Party has found. Across the country, schools that have installed panels in a bid to reduce bills and tackle climate change could face a total of £1.8 million in bills if plans to change business rates go ahead at the end of March.

Fifteen schools in Reading have installed solar panels with the estimated capacity to produce 160kW of solar power. Together, these schools will face an estimated total of £9,328 in bills if the Valuation Office Agency goes ahead with plans to remove the exemption for small non-domestic installations.

Reading Borough Council was one of 74 education authorities across England and Wales that responded to Green Party Freedom of Information Requests. These 74 authorities were responsible for 821 schools with almost 14,000 kW of solar power capacity installed. Scaled up to all 174 education authorities across England and Wales, this makes a total business rates bill of about £1.8 million per year.

Rob White, Green Party local councillor from Park ward, said: "The hard work of schools that fund raised to get solar panels will be undone by this tax. This sends a negative message to children about the future of renewable energy and tackling climate change."

Jenny Jones, the Green Party’s member of the House of Lords, who submitted the Freedom of Information Requests, said: "It's utterly absurd to penalise schools for investing in solar panels. Schools obviously face bigger financial challenges than this, but the business rate charges will stop any plans for more solar panels. Schools I have visited see them as a triple investment – in their energy costs, their pupils' education, and their future.

"My research shows there is huge scope for schools to install more solar panels. While some schools have installed panels on most of their buildings, many currently have few or none at all. The Government should ditch these plans to charge rates on small solar installations and support more schools to join the clean energy revolution."

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