Welcome to the NCS Newsletter keeping members and supporters up to date with projects, meetings, and events of interest to community energy!
A role for Norwich Community Solar?
The 2021 AGM meeting noted that NCS has yet to initiate a project, held back by unfavourable changes to UK energy policy.
The main challenge has been the withdrawal of the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) to new applicants in 2019. The FIT made solar projects economically attractive by providing an attractive guaranteed price for renewable electricity fed-in to the national grid. Without the FIT, rates of return on surplus (exported) renewable energy from its replacement (the so-called ‘Smart Export Guarantee’) are much lower, meaning considerably longer payback periods and greater reluctance to invest.
If all electricity generated on site is not consumed, options then are either to arrange a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with a nearby consumer or consumers with sufficient aggregate demand, or investment in storage capacity. The former is complex, the latter further extends the payback period.
That was then. If the inadequate response to the climate emergency were not enough, since February this year the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has laid bare the failure of UK energy policy to build a resilient low carbon energy system over a period of decades. Despite progress in the deployment of renewables, we still remain dangerously exposed to hydrocarbon’s repeated market crises and other forces outside our control.
In the latest symptom of this systematic failure, current projections for the energy price cap suggest annual household energy bills of £2,800 by October.
This was the background to the 2022 AGM on 23 April, which provided an opportunity to discuss and review the decision of the 2021 AGM to allow until the end of May 2022 to find a way forward for NCS by identifying if there is a role for the Community Benefit Society, or a modified version.
What has NCS achieved since the last AGM?
NCS-lead UK Solar Mobility Hubs study
In April 2021 an opportunity arose to bid for funding through the UK Government Community Renewal Fund (CRF). This appeared a way forward for NCS with encouragement to submit a bid through Norfolk County Council who provided guidance and support.
A significant amount of work went into developing a project in close collaboration with RenEnergy of Blofield Heath. The proposed “UK Solar Mobility Hubs” study planned to offer a scalable, national framework for decarbonisation, skills transfer and rural connectivity to address the lack of public EV charging points. The proposal was to focus on community car parks, such as Park and Ride (P&R), city centre and remote/rural car parks, offering an array of potential recharging spaces nationally. It could also enable the expansion of EV bus services, currently constrained by the lack of suitable rapid recharging facilities at the end of routes, such as in P&R car parks.
The bid was submitted in June. It was not until the beginning of November that we heard we had been unsuccessful.
Whilst disappointing, the experience provided the opportunity to work together with RenEnergy on a significant bid for government funding. In the course of developing the plan we were able to demonstrate NCS’s capabilities to partner organisations and help raise the profile of NCS. We remain open to similar opportunities and are maintaining a watch for other funding possibilities.
Norwich Climate Commission
We noted in the last newsletter that applications had closed to become a volunteer Norwich Climate Commissioner. Commissioners represent the public, private, and third sectors, alongside local communities in the commission’s work to generate awareness and use of best practice to support the city’s environmental targets.
Two NCS members, Nigel Hargreaves and John Moore have become part of the newly formed Norwich Climate Commission, which has a mandate under the City Council in partnership with the Tyndall Centre at UEA as an independent advisory body to offer the city council guidance on mitigating and adapting to climate change with respect to its aim under the Norwich 2040 City Vision to shifting to clean energy by 2040 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
One of the first outcomes has been to comment on the Implementation Plan (IP) of the latest version of the Transport Plan (TP4 IP) put forward for consultation by Norfolk County Council, which is Norfolk’s Highways Authority. These comments were critical of the lack of detail and explanation in how Norfolk’s IP would reduce carbon emissions to meet the wider net zero target for the country set by central government – to which all regions must contribute by reducing emissions within their jurisdictions.
The Commision is also developing a workplan to show leadership on climate mitigation and adaptation actions that will offer guidance to the City Council in achieving its 2040 vision.
Solar Canopies for Schools
As also reported in our October 2021 newsletter, NCS member John Moore has developed a proposal aimed at schools for the use of solar canopies, typically over car parks and play areas.
Initial assessment indicates that there should be a good number of schools that could “host” a solar canopy and use the electricity generated. The next step is to test-market the concept on a few Education Trusts to see if there is appetite for the offer. This requires some work to ensure that we approach the Trusts with a well developed proposal with clear illustrations of the concept.
Tom Feary at Studio 163 has kindly provided some visualisations and the next step is to develop the proposal to approach Trusts. Unfortunately this has been slow in progressing due to other time commitments.
Any help – particularly where you have contacts in any of Norfolk’s education trusts – would be gratefully received. Please contact us using our NCS email address.
New Mills Yard hydropower scheme
New Mills Yard in central Norwich contains a former pumping house built over the River Wensum. It potentially offers an ideal location for a hydropower generation project and discussions with Norwich City Council continue to explore ways to take advantage of this promising resource. Negotiations have been slow moving due to the number of stakeholders responsible for the site requiring alignment – including the Environment Agency (weir and river water level management), NMY leaseholder and city council (landlord).
NCS have put forward a vision for use of a novel river turbine under development by a local company that could potentially supply a constant source of clean energy to a nearby housing development using a private wire. However, in order to move this project forward we have called on the council to convene the necessary parties to start moving the project forward.
Food Innovation Centre
NCS was consulted by environmental consultancy Pure Leapfrog with contracting and interior fit-out group Willmott Dixon about developing a community share offer to fund installation of solar panels on the roof of the FIC. However, the timeline proved too tight among a number of other issues.
This highlighted the growing interest in exploiting mutually beneficial opportunities from collaboration between commercial developers and community energy groups. However our experience showed how important it is for the parties to come together at the project planning stage in order for the community energy group to have sufficient ownership and time to mobilise successfully behind the technical solution.
Recent research sponsored by central government reflects how local energy solutions can save money and create benefits for local communities if they are engaged.
BEIS Community Energy Contact Group
The Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is responsible for UK energy policy. NCS Chair Nigel Hargreaves has become a member of the Community Energy Contact Group with other community energy representatives. Its remit is to discuss issues and policy/programme areas which impact the community energy sector. The CECG is a strategic and collaborative forum and will focus on strategic, cross-cutting issues. The CECG has no formal decision-making powers.
The key objective of the Community Energy Contact Group (CECG) will be to provide a single, dedicated forum for community energy groups (and supporting organisations) to engage and collaborate with the government. Officials from within BEIS and across Whitehall will be invited when the group is scheduled to discuss their policy/programme area and if they want to test ideas at the early stages of policy development. Other people (eg. from local government) may be invited to attend for specific items.
Nigel has proposed that the planned review of the Infrastructure Act, 2015 takes place to implement measures that would enable community investment in large commercial renewable energy schemes to be mandated, possibly as part of the powers by local authorities to offer planning permission. The aim would be to offer local people the chance of buying shares and co-owning large schemes that currently utilise our natural resources without any significant financial benefit to the local community. It could follow the model of community co-ownership that has been standard practice in Denmark since it started its wind energy revolution more than a decade ago.
Norfolk Local Councils 2022 Conference for Clerks and Councillors
Nigel Hargreaves was invited to present to the Norfolk Local Councils 2022 Conference for Clerks and Councillors via the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce Business Climate Leaders initiative.
This was mainly aimed at reporting on potential climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives that could be implemented at the grassroots level, including forming community owned energy projects.
Nigel highlighted the risks posed by a rapidly changing climate from a global to local perspective and described several options local organisations have to increase resilience. In energy terms these begin with avoiding the use of energy, energy conservation, energy efficiency and local generation. Measures span improving on organisation approach to insulation as well as self generation and consumption of electricity where viable. The clerks and councillors shared various projects they would like to see happen but many agreed that lack of funding and resources present barriers to local communities.
The future of NCS
Against this backdrop of continuing interest and activity, but no concrete projects, what do we want NCS to be and how do we achieve that?
The AGM discussed exactly this, with the following key points emerging:
- There is no other active community energy organisation in Norfolk. Given the radical change in energy prices resulting from the invasion of Ukraine and the likely resulting potential for future renewable energy projects it was felt NCS should maintain a presence to be available to work with local councils and other partners to promote community energy.
- We recognise local councils often lack capacity to realise projects. There are also procurement barriers where community groups do not feature in a procurement framework and hence do not qualify to tender. A role we have, therefore, is to build confidence and familiarise local authorities with our capabilities through networking and developing a professional relationship.
- Getting a first project off the ground as a model of what can be achieved is still essential. This may not be with a local authority but a private company that demonstrates the community energy approach. However, we are reopening negotiations with Norwich City Council on the use of their Riverside Leisure centre roof to generate energy for the facility – a project we first proposed in 2018.
- NCS also has a role to help create carbon literacy and raise awareness so that we can all speak the same language. Peter Ellington talked about his work with accountants on raising awareness of their role in tackling the climate crisis in the decisions they make. There is self-interest in approaching business decisions from a “climate angle” and this can ultimately lead to investing in community energy projects. The scope of NCS can, therefore, be quite broad to be able to then focus on community energy from a variety of different perspectives taking an advocacy, educational, and facilitation role.
- We are still seeking support from our members to step forward to help initiate projects with the expert help existing within our community benefit society. With an energy and climate crisis unfolding around us, we believe there has never been a better time to mobilise community energy in Norwich and Norfolk!
Election of Directors and Chair
Finally, the Rules of Norwich Community Solar, require the directors who have been longest in office since their last election to retire, but they are eligible for re-election.
Consequently, Nigel Hargreaves and Tom Abbott stepped down as directors, with Nigel re-elected as Chair and Tom not putting himself forward for re-election as he has moved away from Norwich.
Community Energy Fortnight 2022
The annual national fortnight of events promoting community energy is about to begin! It will run from 11th-24th June. Events are hosted by community energy organisations and electricity network owners from around the country. This year there is a focus on advice and training in fuel poverty management, energy efficiency as well as stories about how successful energy generation projects have been created by grassroots groups. For more information and timing of in-person and online events, please visit the Community Energy Fortnight webpage.