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Exeter City Council will probably never recoup £5,000 spent on Civic Centre turbines

The money Exeter City Council spent on installing wind turbines at its city centre base is unlikely ever to be recouped in energy savings, the Echo can reveal.

The authority invested £5,000 putting three wind turbines on the roof of the Civic Centre in 2007.

But it could take up to 50 years for the turbines to match that sum in savings. And as the average shelf-life of a turbine is understood to be 20-25 years, it is likely to have been a loss-making enterprise.

The city council has defended the outlay and revealed savings made through a number of other green initiatives are more considerable.

But campaigners for lower taxes have criticised the move as a “PR project” which was not a serious effort to save money.

The turbines were aimed at helping the council meet its Government-set target of reducing CO2 emissions and it was one of the first local authorities to take the step.

Each turbine is 13ft (4m) high with a turbine span of over five feet (1.75m).

They were linked to Exeter City Council’s power supply to cut the amount of electricity needed from other sources and were originally set to be used to “power 200 of the council’s computers”.

A council spokesman said it was not possible to quantify what the turbines were powering but added: “We estimate the energy produced saves the council in excess of £100.”

The Taxpayers’ Alliance said the move amounted to a PR project which was not value for money.

Spokesman Emma Boon said: “Small, on-shore wind turbines like the ones installed on the roof of Exeter City Council are one of the least efficient forms of renewable energy.

“If the council is serious about saving energy and money then it wouldn’t waste thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on green gestures like this.

“This looks more like a PR project than a serious attempt at sustainability.”

However, Maurice Spurway, spokesman for Exeter Friends of the Earth, said: “There are some occasions when it is more important to focus on the message of reducing carbon dioxide emissions than the economy of it.

“Survival of the planet is more important and reducing CO2 as we progress towards the 22nd century is crucial, so anything which has been done in this direction is the right thing to do.

“Perhaps more should have been done but everyone is going to think about how they can play their part in the coming years.”

A number of other environmental initiatives have been put in place by the council with more success and it has also been revealed the other buildings owned by the authority, potentially including council homes, could soon have solar panels installed.

The city council spokesman added: “The turbines were one of a number of initiatives that have resulted in a saving of 15 per cent of the Civic Centre budget in a time of spiralling energy costs.

“The other initiatives include; a voltage stabiliser which reduces and moderates the electricity used, improvements to the building management system which monitors the heating on a floor-by-floor basis, resulting in more efficient use, reductions in the number of printers and automatic power save on PCs saving on electricity, ongoing replacement of lights with more efficient low-energy units, and installation of wind-powered ventilation instead of air conditioning.

“The total saving in financial terms equates to £15,000 per annum.”

He added: “There are no plans to install wind turbines on other council buildings at the present time as we are investigating the feasibility of installing photovoltaic panels.

“A solar mapping exercise is currently being undertaken to see how much of the council’s housing stock would be suitable for such installations.”