The leader of South Hams Council insists there is no truth to claims they are wasting half a million pounds on solar panels and that any suggestion they could have been installed for free is completely unfounded.

It follows claims by Green Party councillor for Dartington and Staverton, Jacqi Hodgson, that neither the council nor Fusion Lifestyle, which runs all four leisure centres across the South Hams, needed to put any money upfront because it could have been entirely funded by Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC).

Earlier this year councillors approved plans to lend Fusion Lifestyle up to £500,000 to install solar panels which would be paid back over a period of time.

But this month the council said they would buy the panels outright and receive an income from Fusion instead of loan repayments.

Cllr Hodgson says the project could have been done without charge to the council or leisure centres and TRESOC would have recouped their outlay by selling excess energy to other users or the national grid.

However South Hams District Council’s leader and Conservative councillor for Salcombe and Thurlestone, Judy Pearce, said such claims were completely untrue.

“Very high energy consumption is common across leisure centres, particularly those with swimming pools,” she said.

“Fusion carried out a procurement process to get an installer for the solar panel installation work, which included TRESOC, but independently decided that the TRESOC offer did not meet the aims of the project.”

The reasons given as to why TRESOC was seen as unsuitable include:

• To maximise success, the solar panels will be installed, operated and maintained by Fusion. Virtually all power generated will be used directly by each centre.

• The involvement of a third party such as TRESOC whose aim to provide a profitable supply of energy to its members, will not meet the project’s purposes as successfully as directly buying, installing and managing the solar panels

• Whilst TRESOC offers free initial panel installation, they would take profit from an agreement with Fusion, which would pay for the panels and more, over the agreement term. Providing a profit margin to a third party, in this case TRESOC, reduces the benefits to the council and Fusion. The early capital outlay for the project can be found without third party involvement.

Cllr Pearce explained further practicalities to the approach taken by the council.

“The council own the buildings and lease them to Fusion,” she said.

“It is important that the solar panel ownership is treated in the same way, something not possible using the ‘free upfront’ investment model.

“There was also the requirement to work with one supplier, and of course, the Council has multiple leisure centres, three of which are not in Totnes.”

It is estimated the panels will cut carbon emissions of the centres by the equivalent of 131 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the same as the annual energy emissions of 38 homes.