WHEN ancient religious leaders decreed that houses of worship should face east towards Jerusalem or Mecca, it is unlikely they had the convenience of solar power generation in mind.

South facing roofs are ideal for catching the sun’s rays, however, and now church and mosque leaders in Bolton say they could take advantage if they get financial support.

Faith leaders are appealing for help after British Gas announced that religious buildings could raise thousands of pounds by generating their own electricity using the power of the sun.

The firm estimates that religious buildings across the UK could make £34 million from solar power.

But Bolton’s religious leaders say it would be too expensive to install the panels without outside help.

Inayat Omarji, from Bolton Council of Mosques, said: “I think any renewable energy technology that cuts the cost of faith buildings or voluntary organisations who raise money to fund themselves is a fantastic idea, but it is an expensive way of going down unless support is given to help put them in place.

“We would welcome support from the Government or big players in the energy market.” Christine Marshall, who is responsible for Church of England church buildings in Bolton and across the Manchester Diocese, said churches are struggling just to keep roofs repaired, let alone put solar panels on them.

Churches across Bolton have been hit by a massive wave of lead and copper thefts, which cause thousands of pounds of damage to roofs.

Mrs Marshall said: “By the time the cost has been recouped it is then time to replace the equipment, so the cost benefit does not add up.

“There is constant fundraising to keep a church watertight as well as updating facilities to meet the latest regulations.”

British Gas says religious buildings across the UK could raise £34 million a year by installing solar panels on their roofs — £5 million from electricity bill savings and £29 million from Government payments for surplus electricity supplied to the National Grid.

The firm claims the move would also save 42,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

A church in London has already installed solar tiles on its roof, and a mosque in Birmingham is aiming to do the same.

julian.thorpe@ theboltonnews.co.uk