Just wanted to let you all know that there is an Energy Coop functioning in Brent!

A group of us from TTKTK and Brent FOE started meeting about 18 months ago responding to FOE's campaign to get local schools to 'Run on Sun'.  (i.e install Solar PV panels) We looked at the various ways of raising funds, ranging from local council money (no chance with the cut-backs) through donations (as e.g. organised by 10:10) to forming a Coop, which we have done. I attended a meeting organised by UCEF (urban community energy fund - part of DECC) in January last year and learned of the grants available to start an Energy Coop. I also spoke with Petra Morris of Cooperatives UK, who arranged for us to be mentored by Brighton Energy Coop.

The process has felt like a hurdle race!  First there was applying to become a CBS (Community Benefit Society or 'Bencom' - a form of Coop allowed to issue shares) with the FCA, next applying for a grant - up to £20k available (we got just over £10k as various items were disallowed, including money spent before receiving the grant!). Then this 'greenest government ever' decided to cut the Feed-in-Tariff for Renewables to an uneconomic amount (12p/kWh down to 4p approx.) in January this year. Next they decided to cut the pre-registration concession which allowed Coops to fix the FiT for a year ahead. That was in September last year, and was a very hectic time, with two of our members on holiday. We managed to sign up Queens Park Community School, Preston Manor School, Charteris Sports Centre and Manor School in time. Unfortunately we've had to drop the last two, as they have smaller roofs and shading issues.

I should explain the 'model' which originated in Denmark with community-owned wind power in the 80s.  Capital for the renewable energy project comes from local people, who become Coop members with a say in running the organisation, regardless of their investment level.  Some of the energy generated is consumed on site, the remainder is fed into the national grid. Income comes from the government's guaranteed FiT for all energy generated regardless of where it is used. It runs for 20 years. 

Now here's the interesting thing: the electricity generated actually belongs to the Coop and can be sold, which we will do, at half price, to the schools.  Essentially, the government is rewarding you for being a power station. Yes , it is a subsidy, and some have complained that it's unfair to charge electricity consumers for this. (Actually, all generators get subsidies, including gas, coal and especially nuclear - more in most cases). 

To put some figures on it, we plan 50 kW installations on each school, costing about £1150/kW.  They generate around 850 kWh/kW p.a. so total income will be about £15,000 p.a.  So the panels generate about 13% of their cost p.a. (7.7 year payback) We pay investors back capital at 5% p.a. and interest of 5% p.a. We need the 3% for admin, maintenance , insurance, etc. Schools are advantageous for solar power as they have large roofs and daytime use. Data from Oxford low-Carbon hub predict more than 98% of the solar electricity will be used by the school. This means the school get 50 x 850 x 0.06 = £ 2550 p.a saving on electricity, assuming we sell at 6p and their supplier charges 12p.  We think this is a useful saving for them and CO2 saving for all of us. In addition, the schools get to keep the panels after the 20 years.  They still have useful life up to 30 years. By that time perhaps much more efficient panels will have come along....Oh, did I forget to mention that there is no cost to the school at any stage?

In order to secure the FiT, you have to apply to OFGEM, then get permission from UK power networks to connect your solar power system to the grid. These organisations don't move quickly, and we are still waiting confirmation for PMS after 10 weeks! Meanwhile the clock is ticking. We have to get both installations up and running and registered by the end of September. Our initial timetable was to do this during the Easter holiday so as not to disturb school life, as the installation which takes about a week and involves a lot of scaffolding!

Unfortunately, we have yet to meet with PMS and get the go-ahead from them.  It has generally been very hard to persuade schools of the advantages of solar power. I suppose it's partly inertia, partly being very busy, maybe distrust of an outside organisation, unfamiliarity with the technology.....

A lot of this is work for the group, but in a few weeks we hope to launch our share offer and then we will need help in spreading the message: - please invest in our renewable energy project. I think we are short on social media experience, for example.

Anyway, enough for now. If any of you would like to get involved, have a look at www.brentpureenergy.org.uk and contact me  via this site. Thanks.

Nick Hartley

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