Solar Connected Communities: Glenkens Community and Arts Trust (GCAT)

 

The CatStrandProject name: Solar Connected Communities: Glenkens Community and Arts Trust (GCAT)
Technology: 12kW solar PV
Location: Balmaclellan, near Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway
CARES funding: CARES Enablement grant for Energy Performance Certificate and Local Development Officer time. Funding was also received from SP Energy Networks Green Economy Fund and Blackcraig Wind Farm Community Fund.
Date installed/operational: March 2020

Glenkens Community and Arts Trust (GCAT) was formed in 2001. The main aim of the trust was to transform the derelict Victorian Kells Primary School into a centre for community, cultural and business activities. Six years and a £1 million fundraising campaign later, The CatStrand opened in September 2007. Named after the small stream which used to run underneath the building, it provides a wide range of quality arts, community and training activities for the residents of the Glenkens. It is also a tourist attraction in its own right.

After the success of The CatStrand, GCAT focused on renovating and refurbishing the Smiddy in the neighbouring village of Balmaclellan, building on the success of The Men’s Shed situated next door which is also run by GCAT. The Smiddy is now a multi-purpose heritage and community Hub for the Glenkens and wider Dumfries and Galloway area. The building includes an auditorium and meeting rooms equipped with modern facilities which enables it to host a variety of events and activities.

GCAT wanted to incorporate sustainability into the refurbishment project. Zero Waste Scotland initially worked with GCAT to identify further energy efficiency opportunities. It produced a detailed summary report which highlighted the installation of solar PV panels on its roof as a further way to reduce their carbon emissions.

Local Energy Scotland supported GCAT with a CARES enablement grant which was used to fund an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the building. This enabled the community group to pre-register for the Feed-in Tariff scheme (FIT).

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 GCAT 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’s specific aims were to reduce The Smiddy and the Men’s Shed’s carbon emissions and improve their energy efficiency ratings.

GCAT also wanted to develop long-term sustainable income streams and methods of working so that it can become less dependence on grant funding. The newly renovated Smiddy building will help it do this by providing further venue hire space, conferences and retail sales.

The addition of the solar panels on the roof of The Smiddy will help it achieve its aim through energy savings and FIT income. Profit from the FIT and the sale of electricity over the next 20 years will support GCAT’s future charitable activities.

The project aims to have a lasting environmental, economic and social benefit on the communities which GCAT 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 GCAT 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.

GCAT received approximately £11,715 from SPEN’s Green Economy Fund for the capital installation costs of the solar panels. GCAT also secured funding of £15,500 from Blackcraig Wind Farm Community Fund with funding from Blackcraig Wind Farm (Scotland) Limited, administered by Founda-tion Scotland working in partnership with The Glenkens & District Trust. A private do-nation of £5,000 was also received towards the project.

GCAT used the services of Solarae, a local contractor, to install the 12kW solar PV system and a new roof, which was urgently required, on the Men’s Shed.

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

This 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 2.5 tonnes CO2 are expected, in addition to significant energy cost savings. The lifetime of the project is expected to be between 20 and 25 years.

The cost savings and surpluses that GCAT makes are being reinvested into its work, which contributes to a wider positive impact across the communities they serve.

Lessons learned

Gill Warnock, project lead for GCAT, said: “Although we had an interest in the subject, we didn’t really know very much about solar PV at the start, so the whole project has been very educational! We now have a better appreciation of the benefits that a solar PV project can bring to a community group.

“We’ve learned about infrastructure constraints, funding issues, and some of the technicalities of installing solar PV. As a result of the project we were invited to take part in the Community Energy Futures programme which has meant we’ve been able to learn about a far wider range of potential community energy projects.”

When asked if there was anything particularly challenging, Gill said: “The technical specifications and the paperwork were particularly opaque to the non-professional. Without Local Energy Scotland’s help we couldn’t have considered or completed the project.

“Funding was also a challenge as we were not in a position to take on loans. Luckily, we had the chance to apply for a grant from a local community benefit fund which made the project possible. Local Energy Scotland also helped us to secure Green Economy Fund match-funding for the solar PV, and CARES funding to pay for the EPC.

“We were also hampered by the infrastructure capacity: we had to reduce our system’s capacity and upgrade our invertor to avoid unaffordable infrastructure upgrade costs which likely wouldn’t have happened before the FIT deadline.
“It was difficult to find the necessary resource to manage the project. Without significant time and effort from a volunteer, it would not have been possible to do it."

Gill said she would highlight a few key issues to communities in similar situations. She adds: “We ran into some issues with our specification to the supplier. Though we had everything in writing, there were still misunderstandings. I’d advise talking through all the requirements in detail, as well as having them written down, just to ensure there is no room for misinterpretation.

“Finally, take all the advice that you can get from independent bodies like Local Energy Scotland, Community Energy Scotland, and Zero Waste Scotland. They don’t expect you to be an expert and they are all happy to help. Don’t be put off by potential challenges. It’s great to be able to do a project that brings both immediate and long-term benefits to your community. If a group like ours, that had little prior knowledge, can complete such a project then anyone can do it!”