THURROCK Council has announced it plans to invest in one of the largest solar projects in the UK.
By investing in Swindon Solar Park through Rockfire Capital, the council hopes to diversify its income portfolio in a way which protects taxpayers’ money and gives a good return on investment.
Thurrock is one of three local authorities, including Warrington and Newham, who have invested in the 172-acre site made up of 231,600 solar panels.
In a statement the council said the decision was made based on a number of factors, including the investment being ethical, asset-backed, supported by external advice and due diligence, as well as diversifying the borough’s portfolio – adding greater stability to council forecasts.
Thurrock Council’s Portfolio Holder for Finance, Councillor Shane Hebb, said: “Thurrock is a pro revenue generating council and this is exactly the sort of project we want to be involved with. We will continue to look for similar opportunities and invest when the advice says we will get a good return for residents.
“People in Thurrock can rest assured that not only are we looking after their money, but we are also doing our bit to help protect the environment by reducing the amount of carbon produced by burning fossil fuels.”
However, opposition parties were less impressed with the move, with Labour Leader Councillor John Kent saying it was evidence of the Tories breaking promises on all decisions being subject to scrutiny.
Cllr Kent added: “This might well be a great idea, it may be a worthwhile investment, but how do we know?
“How do we know how much this is costing us – I understand it is £15 million, where is that money coming from? Is it through increased borrowing?
“All we have to go on is a 200-word press release that tells us the council is proud and delighted.”
He added: “The release admits that in recent years – under Labour control remember – the council ‘has been exploring more inventive ways of treasury management’.
“All well and good, but I somehow doubt that a decision of this magnitude had to be made on the spur of the moment without a proper opportunity to examine the pros and cons, to shine a light on the proposals and scrutinise them in detail.”
UKIP too voiced concerns at the move for backing a scheme that they said was “pushing millions of working households into fuel poverty.”
UKIP Thurrock’s Finance Spokesman Cllr Jack Duffin said: “UKIP Thurrock is calling for half of the profit made by driving up energy prices to be used to help the growing numbers forced into fuel poverty.
“A new Fuel Poverty grant should be set up in Thurrock in which these proceeds will be ring-fenced and spent on helping the poorest people harmed by this ill-considered energy policy.
“I am deeply disappointed that the Tories are continuing their campaign to hike up energy prices and using Thurrock taxpayer money to do it.
“While solar energy sounds good on the surface, the ‘green agenda’ has caused energy prices to rise by over 60% in recent years.
“This investment is deeply unethical as it is designed to profiteer off residents being forced into fuel poverty.”