Report from September 18 Meeting

Pete Capener’s presentation ‘Community Energy in a Changing World’

Some key messages:
In order to deploy subsidy free solar from BWCE’s modelling installation costs will need to reduce from the current £900 per kWp down to £650 per kWp and O&M costs from £15/ kWp/year down to £10/ kWp/ year

Peer to peer trading is still evolving. The Brooklyn Microgrid in New York is working well using innovative blockchain technology but regulatory barriers are preventing transfer of the model to the UK. The Picolo peer-to –peer trading scheme currently seems to give limited additional value to either the generator or end user because of high admin and service provision costs.

BWCE aim to play to the strengths of the community energy sector, especially local participation and local contacts. They aim to structure future share and bond offers to maximise local participation. They are currently working in partnership with Our Power, a not-for- profit licenced energy supplier, to offer a locally sourced renewable energy tariff in their area. They also have set up a ‘Solar Streets’ pilot including a time of use tariff and demand shifting. BWCE believes that more than price signals are required in order to engage communities in the shift to a low carbon economy that maximises local benefits.

BWCE are piloting bonds as a means of raising finance, including 15 year bonds with include an annual percentage of capital repayment, similar to debentures. Bond holders are not shareholders and therefore not voting members of Community Benefit Societies or Co-operatives. A disadvantage of 2-year or 5-year bonds is the need to re-finance, with associated costs.

James Owen’s presentation ‘Subsidy free Public Sector Solar’

Some key messages:

James mentioned that when he was Commercial Director of Public Power Solutions (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Swindon Borough Council) he provided consultancy services to a large number of local authorities who were considering investments in renewable energy. Local authorities are in a very good position, owning or managing properties or land suitable for solar PV installations and being able to borrow capital at low interest rates. However unfortunately there were many examples of local authorities backing off from solar investments due to the periodic reduction in Feed-in Tariffs, when often installation costs subsequently reduced to make the installations financially viable where there was a high percentage of on-site use.
Also local authorities seemed to lack a structure to collaborate and share information, therefore re-inventing the wheel and not sharing lessons learned.
James believed there was potential for community energy groups to partner more closely with local authorities, especially in the current situation in cuts to local authority budgets resulting in a shortage of staff to develop any new low carbon initiatives that could contribute to local authority budgets and the local economy.

Tom Parkinson’s presentation ‘A Community Energy Supply Model’

Some key messages

Tom mentioned that he is a founding director of Energy Local, a Community Interest Company that was established in 2013 to develop supply of renewable electricity to local households. Tom is also a non-executive director of Westmill Solar whose members asked why they couldn’t purchase the electricity supplied to the grid by the solar farm.

Energy Local partnered with Co-operative Energy to launch the SWELL project in Oxfordshire which included 50 households and local business in a virtual renewable electricity trading pilot . (ie electricity was not traded but the virtual trading with rewards of Co-operative shopping vouchers allowed the metering software and time of use tariffs to be developed. The virtual savings were £124/ per household per year.

In 2017 Energy Local set up a full local renewable energy trading project in Bethesda, N Wales based on selling locally the renewable generation from a 100kW hydro installation owned by the National Trust. 100 local householders are participating in the project and have installed smart meters provided by Co-operative Energy who provide a time of use tariff and re-sell the hydro generation at 7p/kwh to the 100 householders. There are plans to expand the project with a second community-owned hydro plant. There are a new wave of Energy Local clubs currently being set up with 5 in Wales, 1 in Oxfordshire and 1 in Brixton, London.
Tom mentioned that success factors include club members feeling positive about purchasing locally generated renewable electricity (and at a cheaper price than grid electricity) and no top down ‘Big Brother’ approach, eg householders can choose if and when to benefit from the time of use tariff and they are free to switch out of the scheme and choose another electricity supply company.
Tom mentioned current barriers include all participating households have to be on the same low voltage substation as the generator.

Discussion on ideas for the next 2 meetings

Tom Burnett and Alison Craig agreed to join Lesley Bennett and Pete West as the steering group for the next 2 meetings, at Wessex Water offices near Bath, provisionally Friday 30th November and the following meeting in Feb/ March 2019 at the Quaker Meeting House in Salisbury.

Pete Capener suggested the November meeting could be on ‘Finance and New Income Streams for Community Energy Groups’ which could include an update on new grant funding and partnerships with energy supply companies. Suggested speakers included Dawn Muspatt from Our Power and a speaker from the new Power to Change community energy grant fund.

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