We aim to plan, install and manage community owned renewable energy systems in Cardiff.

Cardiff Council blocks community-funded solar plan for Cardiff Leisure Centres

The latest report from the IPCC has stressed even more strongly than before the need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Welsh Government policy is to rapidly expand locally owned renewable energy generation so as to have 1 gigawatt (1 million kilowatts) of renewable electricity capacity in Wales locally owned by 2030.

Yet Cardiff Council has just blocked a plan a community-funded solar plan for Cardiff Leisure Centres.

Cardiff Community Energy, a not-for-profit community benefit society had put forward a plan to install a total of more than 230 kWp of electricity-generating solar PV of solar PV across 8 sites.  This would give an estimated annual CO2 saving of 64 tonnes.  The plan also included a proposal for a 212 square meter solar water heating system at one site.  This would be the largest solar water heating installation in Wales (and perhaps the UK), being even larger than the similar systems installed by Cardiff Council on the STAR hub and on Eastern leisure centre.  It would also be the first community-funded solar water heating system in the UK.  It would give an estimated annual CO2 saving of 17.5 tonnes.

The leisure centres are being run under contract by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) but Cardiff Council retains ownership of the buildings and responsibility for their external fabric, including roof space.

GLL wanted the community solar proposal to go ahead as it would provide them with electricity at less than grid cost as well as contributing to reducing the carbon footprint of their operations.

In order to be viable the plan required legal agreements between Cardiff Council and Cardiff Community Energy allowing the installations on the rooftops.  This kind of agreement known as an air-space lease is a standard feature of large third-party commercial solar installations.  Cardiff Community Energy provided Cardiff Council with an air-space lease drawn up by Brighton and Hove Council that could potentially be used as a model.  Brighton and Hove Council is using this lease for up to 50 schools to have solar installed by a not-for-profit community benefit society based in Brighton.  Cardiff Council’s legal department has ruled out agreements  as too complex and Cardiff Council strategic estates  department considered it too risky, raising the concern that if a roof were to collapse in the future the Council might be sued over damage to solar panels.

Cardiff Community Energy is particularly frustrated that it has not been given any opportunity to discuss this with relevant Cardiff Council officers in spite of repeated requests for meetings over a period of many months.

How the scheme would have worked:

Installations would be at no cost to Cardiff Council or GLL.

Maintenance and insurance would be provided at no cost to Cardiff Council or GLL.

GLL would pay less than current grid cost for any solar electricity used on site.   The cost for solar electricity to GLL would be fixed, not rising with inflation.   It is expected that almost all electricity generated would be used on site, but any surplus would be automatically exported to the grid.

Metered solar heat would be supplied at half the current cost of gas heating.  Again this would be a fixed cost, not rising with inflation.

When GLL’s contract ends (13 years from now) the offers outlined above would be extended to whoever runs the leisure centres from then on.

Welsh Government offers grant funding for pre installation costs of community renewable energy schemes such as legal fees.  Short term loans have also been made available to allow construction deadlines for community renewable projects to be met.  After construction the project would be re-financed by issuing community shares.   

Cardiff Community Energy would receive income from sales of electricity and heat, along with feed-in-tariff payments for renewable electricity and renewable heat incentive payments for solar water heating.   UK Government is closing the feed-in-tariff scheme for new entrants at the end of March 2019.  It is also plans to end export tariff payments for new installation from that date.  The renewable heat incentive scheme will remain open to new entrants.

This would be used to cover operating costs including insurance and maintenance, to pay interest to community share-holders as well as repaying their capital over a 25 year project lifetime.

Any surplus would go into a Community Benefit Fund used for grants to local community projects.

Cardiff Community Energy is run by unpaid volunteer directors and is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority as a Community Benefit Society.

Community shares

Governed by FCA rules, these have a fixed value and can’t be traded – they can only be sold back to the issuer.  Interest is paid to shareholders and capital is paid back gradually over 25 years.  Shares would be bought back on demand – subject to cash flow- so shares should be seen as a 25 year investment. Shareholders get one vote no matter how many shares they may hold.  Shares can be bought by incorporated bodies like limited companies and registered charities as well as by individuals.

Examples elsewhere

Community Energy groups across the UK co-operate and freely share information. Cardiff Community Energy has benefitted from the experience and expertise of many groups including:

Bath and West Community Energy

Solar on 9 schools, 4 community buildings and over 11MW of ground-mounted systems.

Bristol Energy Co-op

Over £10M of solar including 11 community buildings and 2 community solar farms.

Brighton Energy Co-op

Over £1.5M of existing installations with further installations on up to 50 schools planned this year.

Oxford Low Carbon Hub

Solar on sites including Oxford bus company depot and 30 schools + plus 2 micro hydro sites.

Cardiff Community Energy is registered with the financial conduct authority as a community benefit society, number 32142 R.