Sun Sets on Crediton’s Community Solar Energy Project

Following Queen Elizabeth's (QE) School's decision not to progress Sustainable Crediton's community energy proposal last month, Sustainable Crediton have decided to end work on this project. Charles Mossman, Project Leader, said that "we are bitterly disappointed that our 18 month project has ended in failure despite our best efforts to overcome the obstacles that the Government has created since May. The Government's recent actions have curtailed the project in that we had limited time to give QE the confidence to commit without feeling they would jeopardise their other interests. If there was no Government imposed cut off deadline then a more sedate process could and would have ensued. I'm sure given more time we could have persuaded QE not to miss out on significant benefits to themselves and the community."

Charles explained "after the general election the Conservative Government started making changes to their renewable energy subsidy policies. The three changes out of about 14 which had a potential economic impact on our project were the removal of tax relief for investors in community renewable projects, reduced feed-in tariff rates from January 2016 and the removal of the ability to lock-in a feed-in tariff rate for a period of 12 months. At the start of September we were faced with a task of applying for feed-in tariff rates for our potential projects by the end of the month. Thanks to the Devon Community Accelerator Fund we were able to carry out energy performance assessments on QE School buildings and so complete those applications."

Ed Sharpe, the business analyst within the Sustainable Crediton project team, continued "with our applications submitted on time and tariff rates locked-in until 30th September 2016, we were able to finalise our business proposition for QE School and present it to the Resources Committee in December. The proposition offered QE £230,000 savings over a 25 year period, at no cost to the school whilst putting all "profits" of the scheme into a community fund for additional community projects in Crediton such as the alleviation of fuel poverty. Regrettably QE main board rejected the offer, their stated reason for rejecting was the considerable risk posed to QE's major capital works programme this summer. Governors felt that the incredibly tight timescales imposed by the Government meant that the risks to the programme of essential works and the longer term risks outweighed the potential savings generated."

The project started in 2014 when Sustainable Crediton received a grant from the Rural Communities Energy Fund to explore the feasibility of a community renewable energy project in Crediton. Linda Lever, project team member, elaborated "the initial focus for solar PV was on the many suitable roofs in Lords Meadow Industrial Estate. We held public meetings and some interest was shown, but because many businesses rent their buildings on short leases, we were unable to find any willing to enter a 20 year project with us." Charles continued "we then changed our focus to schools and presented the solar PV opportunity to the Crediton Learning Community in January 2015. There was a lot of interest and we carried out surveys on a number of schools including QE. We developed a portfolio of several potential schools including QE, Cheriton Fitzpaine, Newton St Cyres, Copplestone and Sandford. Sadly, whilst we developed a project with QE, we had to drop several other opportunities with the other local schools as we ran out of time and money to apply for feed-in tariff rates."

Ed went on "this really was the final chance of a community renewable energy project in Crediton, where local investors could earn a good rate of return on their capital, QE school get inexpensive electricity and a community fund built up. Recent changes in Government policy have fatally undermined the economic viability of future community energy projects."

Charles concluded "at Sustainable Crediton we are very frustrated by the Government's extremely short-sighted renewable energy policy stance. Since May 2015 and in some cases since signing the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the Government has systematically removed essential supports to the renewable energy industry. It has withdrawn subsidies for new on-shore wind, reduced subsidies for solar PV and removed tax-reliefs for investors in community energy projects. According to DECC these changes will save about £5 (or 1%) from the average household bill, a small fraction of the savings that could be achieved by good regulation of the electricity industry, for example in passing on savings from the dramatic drop in fossil fuel prices. Additionally it has killed off the Green Deal, increased the taxation of low emission cars to be the same as heavily polluting vehicles, axed the carbon capture and storage research competition, given up on zero carbon homes whilst continuing tax incentives for oil majors, encouraging fracking and investing in nuclear energy."

Sustainable Crediton's Energy Group are now looking at a range of other activities for a project for 2016