Cabinet received a report which detailed the findings and recommendations arising from the Solar and Wind Energy Working Group, and the subsequent meeting of the Review Group as chaired by Councillor Thulbourn, to enable a final decision to be made on the projects in question.
Councillor Hiller introduced the item and provided an overview of the background to the issue, advising that following the decision made at the February 2014 meeting of Cabinet to progress the America Farm site through to planning stage, the decision had been called-in and recommendations arising from the subsequent Sustainable Growth and Environment Capital Scrutiny Committee call-in meeting had been, in essence, for Cabinet not to progress the scheme until consideration had been given to the findings of a cross party working group.
Further key points were highlighted by Councillor Hiller including the remit of the Working Group, which had primarily been to review the viability of the proposals, to concurrently look into the likelihood of a profit and finally to make any suggestions as to alternative schemes; the number of times that the Group had met and the information which had been provided to it for review; the majority decision of the Group which had been that the scheme should not progress, concluding that the financial returns were not viable and the risks were too high, this viewpoint having not been held by Councillor Hiller owing to the independently produced expert advice which had determined the opposite and that the scheme should proceed; the view of the Scrutiny Committee that the decision of the Working Group was not considered acceptable due to the lack of evidence provided in support of its majority viewpoint; the further meeting which had been held and chaired by Councillor Thulbourn to review the decision rationale of the Group and the conclusion being that the original Working Group had provided no evidence of the disparity of evidence submitted by the Council’s Resource Department and the Group’s majority conclusion and the lack of supporting scenarios or outcomes and an overview of the recommendations to Cabinet, in summary being for Cabinet to exercise caution in its methodology of progressing with the scheme and to consider further the potential for a financial shortfall on the original projections due to the delay in timescale.
Councillor Seaton addressed Cabinet, thanking both the Scrutiny Committee for its work and Councillor Thulbourn for his involvement and comments. It was acknowledged that the issue in question was an extremely emotive one, however it was important that progression be made on the basis of doing what was right for the residents of the city, and this progression must be evidence based. The original Working Group had not submitted any evidence in order to support its conclusions, as had been specified within its terms of reference.
Councillor Seaton further requested that at a future Group Leader’s meeting, the issue of reports being submitted to meetings which only expressed a viewpoint and did not contain any supporting conclusions or arguments, be raised.
The Chairman addressed the meeting and confirmed that he would raise the issue of report content with Group Leaders at a future meeting. In relation to the issue under discussion, he advised that thousands of megawatts of solar power were being produced around the country from solar farms which had proven to be extremely profitable and viable, bringing in much investment. Energy prices were consistently on the rise and there were concerns that should there been a severe winter in future years, blackouts could be experienced, action therefore needed to be taken.
Cabinet considered the report and RESOLVED:
That any decision to progress the solar and wind projects be deferred until further consideration was given to the impact of:
a) Any delay arising from the call-in by the Secretary of State of a planning decision, in terms of costs and profitability of the projects;
b) A 30% reduction in subsidy (or a professional assessment of what might be a reasonable level of reduction in subsidy) for the projects; and
c) A slowing or reducing sale rate of energy with a professional assessment of what a reasonable reduced rate could be.
REASONS FOR THE DECISION
The decision followed a request from the Sustainable Growth and Environment Capital Scrutiny Committee call-in meeting, held on 12 March 2014.
ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS CONSIDERED
To implement the decisions of 24 February 2014 to progress the America Farm project to planning permission.