Solar panels are hot property

9th May 2008 at 01:00
When computers were first introduced to schools in the 1980s, they soon became a target for burglars
When computers were first introduced to schools in the 1980s, they soon became a target for burglars.

More recently, whiteboard projectors have been swiped and sold on as home cinemas. But now a school has fallen victim to even more opportunistic thieves: its solar panels have been stolen.

Swalwell Primary in Gateshead installed 24 panels just a month ago after winning a pound;20,000 grant from the Co-op and the Government's low-carbon buildings programme.

It was hoped the roof-mounted devices would provide a useful talking point as well as the electricity to run 24 computers. During holidays, the excess power would have been fed into the national grid.

But before the school could even marvel at the impact of the panels on its monthly bills, 20 were stolen.

Peter Hampson, deputy head, said: "The thieves scaled the fence during the night and unbolted them from the roof, and must have passed them through the railings. It seems like an organised operation."

Police in the area said they were not aware of such a theft happening before, and the panels are unlikely to have scrap metal value. The serial numbers are being circulated by police and the manufacturers.

The school was chosen for the grant because of its work promoting Fair Trade products. In 2006, it set up a company that sells tea and cereal bars to parents.

Mr Hampson said: "The pupils really enjoyed seeing how much power was generated for the school. They were devastated."

The theft has also set back the school's hopes of winning the Green Flag award for environmental excellence. But it still hopes to install a wind turbine, and recycle waste water from its kitchens and showers.

Julie Lancastle-Smith, the head, said the school was looking into whether the panels were covered by insurance, and considering an offer of replacements from a local firm.

Police have advised schools to record solar panels' serial numbers, or mark them with an ultraviolet pen or SmartWater identifying liquid, and attach a small sign saying that they have little resale value.

- The rising price of fuel may be behind the theft of nearly 3,000 litres of oil at Seton School in Staithes, North Yorkshire.

The oil - worth about pound;1,400 - was siphoned off from a tank outside the 100-pupil primary.

Ros Barningham, the head, said she might have to dip into the school's budget for stationery, books, and staff training, to pay for new oil to heat the school.

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