SOLAR panels could soon be soaking up rays on the roofs of council homes and offices across Colchester.

Colchester Council is inviting firms from right across Europe to tender to supply photovoltaic panels for about 2,000 council homes and offices in the borough.

The move follows a Government policy change which will allow councils to decide what happens to renewable energy generated on its buildings and how income from it is spent.

At present, any money raised this way has to be passed directly to Whitehall.

Officials say council homes might be powered by solar panels, with any surplus electricity being sold to cover the initial investment costs or to to pay for other council projects.

The proposal is in its early stages, but the council believes it should be able to earn enough to offset the multi-million pound cost of buying and installing the panels.

Lyn Barton, councillor responsible for sustainability, said blocks of flats in areas such as Greenstead could be turned into “solar parks”.

She added: “It’s quite an exciting prospect and a very good opportunity to generate our own electricity.

“Obviously we would have to get funding, because it would be quite a big outlay, but it looks extremely promising. Over 25 years, we would have more than paid for the outlay, and have reduced our carbon emissions at the same time.”

Other council buildings, such as its Rowan House office block, could also be fitted with panels, though the historic Town Hall would probably not be included in the scheme because it is a listed building.

Surveys have already been carried out to decide which buildings would be most suitable.

The energy firm which successfully tenders for the work would first be asked to carry out a feasibility study, detailing the expected cost, benefits and potential setbacks.

Firms have been told they must be able to work fast – the council wants the project completed by April 2012.