Solar Connected Communities: Beith Community Development Trust

 

solar panelsProject name: Solar Connected Communities: Beith Community Development Trust
Technology: 50kW Solar PV
Location: Beith, North Ayrshire
CARES funding: Local Development Officer Time. Funding was also received from SP Energy Networks Green Economy Fund and Viridor Credits through the Landfill Communities Fund.
Date installed/operational: March 2020

Background

Beith Community Development Trust (BCDT) is a community organisation that aims to improve the social, economic and physical condition of Beith, North Ayrshire.

The trust successfully bought Geilsland Estate in a community buy-out initiative in 2015. The estate includes a large event hall, classrooms and workshop spaces, offices, holiday accommodation and space for hosting activities and events. The now community-owned campus aims to generate and retain wealth locally in the widest possible sense – financially, socially, environmentally and culturally.

Zero Waste Scotland initially worked with the trust to help it identify energy efficiency opportunities at the site. It produced a detailed summary report which highlighted the installation of solar PV at Geilsland Hall as a way to further reduce its carbon emissions.

The FIT scheme closed to new applications in March 2019. Ofgem offered community organisations a 12-month extension through a simple pre-registration process.

Communities interested in small solar PV projects (50 kW or less) could pre-register buildings with Ofgem and then have 12 months to get their project up and running but still receive FIT payments at the January 2019 rate. These payments are then guaranteed for 20 years.

Local Energy Scotland was keen to support BCDT to make the most of this opportunity as the financial return is likely to be significantly more than developing projects without this support.

Project aims and objectives

The project aims to reduce Geilsland Hall’s carbon emissions and improve its energy efficiency rating, therefore enabling the building and its activities to be more sustainable.

Profit from the FIT and the sale of electricity over the next 20 years will support existing and new charitable activities.

The project aims to have a lasting environmental, economic and social benefit on the communities which BCDT serves. The project also aims to support community involvement and partnership working in local energy systems which may encourage new installations of locally owned renewable energy in the future.

Outcomes and achievements

Local Energy Scotland supported BCDT to pre-register for the FIT with Ofgem and obtain external private grant funding, which was required in order to remain eligible for FIT, for the capital installation costs.

The trust received approximately £30,700 from SPEN’s Green Economy Fund. They also re-ceived funding from Viridor Credits through the Landfill Communities Fund.

BCDT used the services of Locogen to install the 50kW solar PV system.

The project had to develop, build and secure the FIT within 12 months, and the solar panels became operational in March 2020.

The project is contributing towards the Scottish Government’s ambition to have 1GW of locally owned energy by 2020 and 2GW by 2030, as outlined in the Scottish Energy Strategy, its vision for the future of the energy system in Scotland.

First year carbon savings of 9.7 tonnes CO2 are expected, in addition to significant energy cost savings. The lifetime of the projects is expected to be between 20 and 25 years.

The cost savings and surpluses that BCDT makes are being reinvested into their work, which contributes to a wider positive impact across the communities it serves.

Jane Lamont, Development Manager, said: “A successful community buy-out of a prominent local asset has equipped the community a valuable resource. Beith Trust are re-purposing Geilsland Hall as a flexible multi-use venue, providing our community with a new amenity and enterprise development infrastructure, and opportunities for volunteering, learning and development, jobs and training.

“It is essential that we future-proof the project with the use of renewable technologies; this will not only reduce our impact on the environment but will also reduce its operational costs. With support from Local Energy Scotland, SPENGEF and other project partners we have successfully installed 50kW of solar PV on the roof of Geilsland Hall.”

Lessons learned

During the project’s delivery, Jane said that members learned several things, which she outlined as follows:

  • “There are many paperwork, funding and practical challenges in undertaking a project like this. However, this does not mean that it’s not worth doing - keep driving through the ‘sticky bits’ and eventually you will finish.”
  •  “The language in this industry is unique and acronyms are the norm – always pin it down, don’t leave a meeting and so on without asking for things to be clearly explained.”
  • “You don’t need to be an expert at the start of the project - let the experts explain it to you as you go along and keep asking questions.”
  • “It can be difficult to manage different project partners aims and expectations. Local Energy Scotland were very good at helping us to navigate the project.”

The trust’s members would like to say to any other community groups considering such a project: “Just go for it. Don’t get yourself into knots about it and don’t feel intimidated by the language, the knowledge, or the funding. Keep smiling!”