Gloucestershire Resource Centre
How the story began
The Gloucestershire Community Energy Co-operative (GCEC) started life in 2010 as FiVE Valleys energy Co-op, formed by a group of individuals who wished to install community based green energy systems in the Five Valleys area around Stroud. A few months after they were formed, Gloucestershire Resource Centre (GRC) – based at City Works in Gloucester – wanted to install solar photovoltaic panels but didn’t have the capital to fund the project. The GRC contacted The Solar Coop for advice on how to set up a community scheme to fund them. Kevin Frea from the Solar Coop called a meeting at GRC of relevant organisations in Gloucestershire that might be interested, which included representatives from FiVE and Transition Town Cheltenham.
Initially GCEC considered developing renewable energy installations at a number of sites throughout Gloucestershire. However plans were scaled back to focus on the City Works installation when the Government announced that they were going to bring forward the deadline for reducing the Feed-in Tariff payment. The Renewable Energy Co-operative who are also a South West based co-operative, installed the 44.6 kWp solar photovoltaic system in December 2011, in time to meet the Feed-in Tariff deadline. The array comprises 186 photovoltaic panels (each 240w), three SMA inverters as well as a public display. The roof has a plain unshaded surface that extends 220 feet in length and faces south west.
In order to get the installation completed and commissioned before the tariff change date, GCEC raised £105,000 in 3 weeks in short term loans from well wishers and supporters. They also negotiated a risk-share contract with the installer to mitigate against failing to meet the deadline.
In the spring of 2012 GCEC published its share prospectus, and the money raised through the share issue was used to pay off the loans. The minimum investment was £240, and the maximum investment was £20,000. Many of those lending money converted some or all of their loan to investment. In less than two months the full sum was raised from local people who automatically became members of the Co-operative when they invested, with the aim of creating a more sustainable, ethical and local system of energy production.
There were 49 members who each subscribed to an average of just over £2000 of shares each, and almost everyone lived or worked in Gloucestershire.
The income from the Feed-in Tariff is used to pay interest to investors (at 5%), pay an income to Gloucestershire Resource Centre, the registered charity who own City Works, to help them become more sustainable, build a capital repayment fund to repay the original investments, and to administer these activities.
The FiT was initially paid at 32.9 p and is inflation proofed.
What is City Works?
The Gloucestershire Resource Centre (GRC) owns the City Works building where it delivers its Scrapstore service and hires out conference and art facilities. The Scrapstore diverts clean waste materials from local businesses to be reused as art, craft, play and educational resources by local groups and schools. City Works is also a base for fourteen other social enterprises including Fair Shares and Co-operative Futures.
When City Works received their first quarterly electricity bill after the panels were installed it showed a reduction for the corresponding quarter from 12,630 to 7,720 kWh, suggesting that they’re using about half of the electricity produced.
Minchinhampton Primary Academy
Back in January 2017, current GCEC Board member, Matt Partridge, had an idea. Noticing the large, south-facing roof at his children’s primary school in Minchinhampton, and well aware of the falling price of solar generation through his day job developing solar and wind farms, Matt made contact with the school about a potential solar roof project.
The following 5½ years involved taking the project through to its eventual installation in summer 2022. Along the way, many challenges were successfully overcome, with enormous help from a dedicated and assorted team of “volunteers”! Some of the main challenges are listed below (remembering that the over-arching COVID-19 pandemic challenge is excluded)! Hopefully, the list will provide some useful information for other potential projects.
The project, in partnership with Diocese of Gloucester Academies Trust (the owner/operator of the school) is now providing electricity directly to the school at a cost that is expected to be significantly less than the school’s electricity tariff, while electricity from the solar roof not used by the school is exported to the local electricity grid. The 51kWp system is expected to provide around half of the school’s electricity in a typical year while reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by around 9 tonnes in its first year (by replacing electricity from power stations).
GCEC would welcome discussions with other schools about other potential projects.
CHALLENGES FACED and overcome
Roof structure – the technical/engineering drawings for the roofs were not available, so it was agreed that the conservative approach to this “unknown” was to adopt a design that avoided additional weight on the roof. Hence, an in-roof solar system was adopted. This had the benefit of a better aesthetic (particularly with the existing black roof tiles) but added to cost and marginally reduced generation.
Planning – many roof-top solar systems do not require planning permission, relying instead on permitted development (see: https://www.planningportal.co.uk/permission/common-projects/solar-panels/planning-permission-solar-equipment-mounted-on-a-house-or-a-block-of-flats-or-on-a-building). However, because Minchinhampton Primary Academy is in a conservation area, planning permission was required. Fortunately, achieving this was not contentious and a school governor kindly provided the necessary planning drawings via his planning practice (the planning fee was paid by the school; c. £200-300).
Funding – initially, the school hoped to secure an interest-free loan via the SALIX loan scheme, having previously secured funding in this way for a new boiler. However, the loan application for the solar roof was not successful, but Matt knew about GCEC and had met a number of its directors. A meeting between the school and GCEC was arranged which ultimately led to GCEC stepping in to fill this critical role. GCEC then led on a successful community share offer securing the full £70,000 required to fund the project!
Grid connection – critically, Western Power Distribution was able to confirm its agreement to the installation of the project although export from the project is limited to 15kW (when the school is unable to use all the electricity being generated from the solar roof).
- Nick Moss – Headteacher, Minchinhampton Primary Academy
- Stephen Draper, Mark Catt, Robin Couling – Governors of Minchinhampton Primary Academy
- Canon Rachel Howie and Rob Jones – Diocese of Gloucester Academies Trust
- Solarsense – selected installer
- The numerous private and business investors in the fully subscribed Community Share Offer