A PROJECT which would have seen more than 2,000 Colchester Council tenants benefit from free electricity through solar power has had to be scaled down.

In July, Colchester Council hired Breyer Group to install solar panels on around one in three of the council houses managed by Colchester Borough Homes.

The deal saw investors pay for the installation of the solar panels, with energy generated then used by residents living in the council homes Any surplus is sold back to the National Grid at a set tariff, with the investors getting a small proportion back. Colchester Council receives a set sum for each panel installed, while it is estimated tenants will save between £100 and £150 a year on their energy bills.

But earlier this month the Government halved the tariff from 43.3p to 21p per kilowatt hour, meaning any solar panels installed after December 12 are less attractive to investors.

While some local authorities have seen their projects collapse, Colchester Council has struck a deal with Breyer to continue with a watered-down scheme.

Paul Smith, councillor responsible for finance, said the deal meant a further 1,000 homes will have panels installed before April – in addition to the 700 which have already benefited from the project.

But about 400 to 500 others, whose roofs do not face directly south and so do not attract the most sunlight, have been put on the backburner.

Mr Smith said: “As soon as we heard of the Government’s changes, we did two things.

“Firstly we tried to speed up our programme as much as we possibly could.

“Secondly, we went back to the suppliers and funders and we found a way to carry the project forward. Everyone has had to make some sacrifices, but we’ve been able to work out something that will continue, so work will recommence in the New Year.

“We’d anticipate that another 1,000 or so tenants will get the opportunity to benefit – that’s 400 to 500 less that we hoped, but it’s a pretty good save.”

Mr Smith added the authority was awaiting the results of a judicial review after a High Court judge ruled the consultation period for the changes was inadequate.

If the results go in favour of the solar industry, more homes could have panels installed.