Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Free electricity …. a good deal?

If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

That aphorism needs to be at the forefront of our minds whenever we’re offered what looks like a really good deal. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a good deal to be done. It does mean that we need to ensure we’ve asked all the important questions and satisfied ourselves about the answers before we sign on the dotted line.

Have you been offered free electricity?

Recently, I attended a really useful session about micro-generation organised by Consumer Focus. Last year, it did a really good piece of work on npower which had been overcharging customers for gas supplies, which is why many npower gas customers got a rebate cheque. It’s probably because Consumer Focus had done such a good job that the government is determined to close it down!

But, back to free electricity and micro-generation. Since April last year, electricity suppliers have had to pay a feed-in tariff (also known as ‘clean energy cash-back’) to people who generate their own renewable electricity. There aren’t many of those, you might think. And you’d be correct.

However, a number of companies are now offering free solar panels to some households and businesses. The deal is that the home-owner or business gets free electricity and the organisation takes the income for the surplus electricity produced and fed into the national grid.

Well, free electricity sounds like a really good deal, doesn’t it? And it could be.

But, just think about these questions:
  • What are the guarantees about electricity production?
  • What happens if the kit stops working?
  • Will it affect my mortgage?
  • Do I need planning permission or building regulations approval?
  • What happens if I want to sell my house but the buyer doesn’t want the kit?
  • Who is responsible for any damage to neighbouring properties during installation?
  • What happens if the organising company goes out of business?

And there are many, many more.

So, before you sign up to any such free electricity deal, make sure you do your homework. There’s some really good advice on the website of the Energy Saving Trust.