Yet another solar panel has sprung up on a roof in my street. I wonder how anyone who wants to improve the environment could contemplate disfiguring their elegant Edwardian house with one of those.
The answer, of course, is that people only pollute their visual environment like this because there is money in it. Or specifically, because there is a subsidy in it. Middle-class householders who can afford the £10,000 or so to install solar panels get a hand-out, called the 'feed-in tariff', of 43.3p for each kilowatt hour (kWh) they generate, plus a further 3.1p for each kWh fed back into the National Grid. That gives each household that installs the kit an average income of £1,190 a year. A much better return, you have to agree, than putting your £10,000 in the bank, or anywhere else for that matter.
There are even companies who make a business out of it: you can basically rent out your roof to them in return for free electricity, while they pocket the rest of the subsidy. It is no wonder that so many people have despoiled the very places they live in.
Naturally, it is the rest of us who have to pay. Not just the environmental cost of being assaulted by rooftop eyesores. But hard cash too. The gamut of green levies (which also bring you wind turbines atop every scenic hillside) adds an average £42 to our electricity bills, with gas customers paying an additional £25 (plus £13 more towards the EU Emissions Trading Scheme). It means we are paying nearly £100 a year extra for the energy we use.
But there is some sign of relief. The government has pledged to cap our hidden solar panel tax, so it is having to cut the subsidy it pays out too. The average payback for a solar household is reckoned to fall from £1,190 a year to £640 a year – definitely not such a good investment for solar subsidy farmers. Let's hope that spares our local environment any more damage.