Article first published in Birmingham 13 in August 2012

It is just over a year since photovoltaic solar panels were installed on the south-facing roof of St Mary’s Church in Moseley. The panels have a peak power output of 9kW and so far have delivered a total energy of 7,700kWh with an equivalent CO2 saving of 4.4tonnes, exceeding expectation. They are part of a community initiative together with the Hamza Mosque, the Moseley Allotments Pavilion, Moseley Church of England School, and 20 households, partly funded by a ‘Green Streets’ award of £140K from British Gas, which was won in a competition entered by SusMo (Sustainable Moseley) in 2010. The St Mary’s project has been welcomed by churchgoers and the local community and, as expected, has not provoked any adverse reaction concerning the visual impact. The income from the Feed-in-Tariff of £3K will cover ~30% of the church’s energy costs.

Readers will recall that the St Mary’s proposal was refused City planning permission, and was not recommended by the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC). The planning refusal was overcome by an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate (a national body), and the Diocesan Chancellor chose not to follow the advice of the DAC. At present two Birmingham Anglican churches have photovoltaic panels, the other being the Balsall Heath Church Centre, which installed them also in 2011. In December 2011, the number of Anglican churches in the UK having photovoltaic panels was around 300, when the Church of England authorities together with the National Trust criticised the Government for its change of policy on the Feed-in Tariff, which had been halved. Interestingly, to be consistent with the national average, the Birmingham Diocese ought to have some half-dozen installations by now.

During the latter part of 2011, the “Birmingham Churches Green Group” was set up to promote, among other things, solar panel installations on churches. Its first meeting in November was attended by representatives from about 35 churches, including a range of denominations. Also present were the Chairman and another member of the DAC. The Chairman made it clear that, in the opinion of the DAC, the St Mary’s project should not have been approved and this remained their view. Since then, the DAC has recommended against solar panels on St Anne’s church in Moseley, even though the south roof faces away from the street. This is hardly an encouraging message for the wider church community who are keen to become involved in helping to save the planet.

The most disappointing aspect of the attitude taken by the City planners and the DAC towards these attempts to generate renewable energy is their failure to take into account public opinion, which includes that of the clergy, preferring instead to concentrate on the minutiae of heritage and conservation, even though solar panels do not constitute a permanent change. With such advice, Birmingham can only continue to remain behind the rest of the nation, thus failing to provide the leadership one would expect of Britain’s second city.

John Dowell
July 2012