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.
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.
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.
Work is still ongoing for 8 solar PV sites and one large solar thermal site in Cardiff – all for one organisation. It is slow process! We are also working on plans for 3 PV sites for another organisation and 1 PV site for for a third organisation.
2017 is starting with feasibility work for up to 8 solar PV sites and one large solar thermal site in Cardiff. More news soon we hope.
Feed-in-tariff (FIT) rates are now much lower than they would have been for our solar schools last year. The cost of solar PV equipment keeps on falling and in a few years time it will be financially viable in the UK with no subsidy. Solar PV with no subsidy is already the cheapest kind of new generation in much of the world (sunnier places than the UK!).
For now solar PV in the UK can be financially viable with the present low FIT rates given certain conditions.
What we need to find are building occupiers who:
- have roof-space that can take between 20 and 50 kWp (think roof-space equal to 5 to 15 houses)
- have on-site electricity demand 7 days a week (so that nearly all solar electricity would be used on-site – not exported to the grid)
- own the building or have a lease for the next 20 years
- expect to stay for the next 20 years
- want to be supplied with solar electricity at a little under their current grid price
- want their solar electricity price fixed to RPI for 20 years
- want to have solar electrity with no capital expendinditure or operating costs
Please get in touch if this is you – or you have a suggestion.
Send a quick email to email@example.com
Lost Opportunity for Cardiff Solar Schools
We have been forced to abandon our plans to install community funded solar on Cardiff schools.
The plan was to install solar PV on up to 10 schools, cut their carbon footprint, supply electricity at about half grid cost for 20 years, provide an exciting educational resource and pay community share-holders about 5% interest. All costs, including maintenance and insurance for 20 years were to be met by Cardiff Community Energy.
Cardiff Council supplied us with Energy Performance Certificates for 5 schools, allowing us to pre-register them with OFGEM, just before the 2015 deadline, so that we would get the feed in tariff (FIT) rate of 2015 so long as the systems were working by September 2016. In January FIT rates were cut drastically so that only the 5 pre-registered schools would be financially viable. The total capacity pre-registered was about 200 kWp.
To our surprise and dismay Pencaerau and Marlborough Road primary schools decided they did not want solar. No reasons were given and our requests for reasons have been ignored.
Because of grid constraints Grangetown primary school could only have 3 kWp installed (a house-sized system) rather than the 49.9 kWp that we had pre-registered.
The last 2 primary schools, Rumney and Springwood, are both going to have repairs carried out over the 2016 summer holiday. Cardiff council have not been able to give us dates for these repairs. As they may not be completed before the end of the summer holiday there may be no time for installing solar. Without these 2 installations we could not afford to install on Grangetown. Planning solar installation was impossible. Reluctantly we had to abandon our plans for Cardiff solar schools.
We will not be able to install anywhere this year but are continuing to look at future longer-term options.
Solar Schools – Meet the Directors
Little Man Coffee Company
Ivor House, Bridge Street, Cardiff, CF10 2EE
6.30pm Tuesday 8th March
Cardiff Community Energy has some exciting news! This summer we plan to install solar panels on 5 schools in the Cardiff Area. They will be community owned – anyone will be able to buy the shares that will finance it, do some good and earn interest.
We’d like to invite you to a “Meet the Directors” public meeting to hear more about the project, and put your questions to us. This will be an opportunity for you get to know the team and our supporters more, and be part of a project that’s great for communities and our environment.
You can find out more about Cardiff Community energy at our website, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been an interesting month or so since our last newsletter.
Cardiff Community Energy has been in dialogue a lot with the council about the feasibility of a community energy scheme to fund solar installations on schools. The conversation so far has been constructive without coming to any definitive conclusions.
It seems, though, that lately the council have been coming around to the idea of funding a large scale solar development project on schools themselves, which is good news in itself.
It does however mean that CCE needs to explore more options for sites to locate projects on. There are certainly plenty of options! We’re now beginning to contact representatives of lots of different organisations, such as other public services, that have potential for renewable energy projects. We’d like to hear from you, too. If you have any ideas for large scale renewable projects, feel free to get in touch by sending us an email.
We’re also very encouraged by the level of support and interest from the public that Cardiff Community Energy receives. In April we’ll be meeting with some potential new directors and supporters who want to help us make community renewables a reality. We’re keen to build on this level of support, and we’d love to get the community involved! So if you’re enthusiastic about community energy and want to help out or advise, whether formally or casually, send a quick email to email@example.com and introduce yourself.
It’s been a busy and productive few months for Cardiff Community Energy. Our directors have been working hard undertaking research, liaising with the council and meeting lots of new friends and supporters.
Our website content is now available in Welsh. It has taken us a while, but like everything else it is thanks to an unpaid volunteer. Thanks Joe!
One of our biggest pieces of recent good news is that we have been awarded a grant of £1,000 by The Naturesave Trust. This will be put to good use preparing and promoting our main share offer further down the line. Not only that, but Naturesave have also pledged to buy £2,000 of shares when the share offer is launched!
As our project develops, we’re also looking to invite members of the public to become new supporters, volunteers and perhaps directors. We’re a community enterprise after all, and we’d love to get the community involved! So if you’re enthusiastic about community energy and want to help out or advise, whether formally or casually, send a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org and introduce yourself.
Lastly, we’re planning to hold a small pioneer share offer to cover some of the start-up costs of our main project phase. These shares should qualify for 50% income tax relief under the government’s SEIS scheme. If you’re interested in being a part of this opportunity, and in making community energy in Cardiff a reality, watch this space…