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Update at January 2016

Here is news of all the successful activities we have undertaken in 2015 and how we are placed going forward into 2016

Posted in Updates 

A Happy New Year from South Somerset Community Energy and here is an update on everything that has been happening in our first very busy year.

It has sometimes seemed like the labours of Hercules with all the government has thrown at the solar industry and with the problems caused by the consequent mad rush for projects: but ultimately, through great teamwork, the year has finished on a successful note.

In June we launched our first share offer and with investors’ considerable generosity and faith, and a small time extension, we managed to achieve our target for the pilot solar PV projects of Westfield Academy and Abbey Manor community hall, both in Yeovil. We had the rest of the calendar year to commission and register these projects to catch the Feed In Tariff before the next step reduction.

Shortly after this, the government published a consultation proposing to drop the 'pre-accreditation’ system: (this system allows Community Energy groups like ours to secure Feed In Tariff levels in advance for school projects, with 12 further months to commission and register them) and while this was being considered, the government published a further consultation proposing to slash the Feed In Tariffs by nearly 90% from January 1st 2016, a level at which all future projects would be rendered unviable.

On 22nd September the government announced that the system of pre-accreditation would cease from midnight 8 days later. It was now clear that our only chance of viable future projects was to pre-accredit them in a seemingly impossible timescale. We held an immediate Board meeting and decided to do our best to pre-accredit further projects in 8 days. This involved:

1.      Deciding the most suitable schools by a logical and fair process

2.      Persuading them to agree in principle to roof lease and power purchase schemes with us,

3.      Having Solarsense (our supplier) design a solar PV scheme for them,

4.      Persuading the electricity distributor to make an offer of a connection (usually takes about 3 months!)

5.      Accepting that offer in writing, and

6.      Filling in a complex on-line application form to Ofgem.

By a superhuman effort by the team, we managed to submit three pre-accreditation applications with a few hours to spare - for Holyrood Academy in Chard, Stanchester Academy in Stoke-sub-Hamdon, and Preston Academy in Yeovil. Because of the rush of other groups to make pre-accreditation applications, we still have not heard whether ours have been accepted: we believe they are good applications, although in the case of Preston Academy we could not get a firm offer from SSE the electricity provider - just an email saying what the connection would be when they eventually would make us an offer.

Meanwhile we received a third body blow from government as they slipped an amendment into the third reading of the Finance Bill removing Enterprise Investment Scheme tax concessions from community energy schemes with under four weeks’ notice. (This EIS concession makes it much more attractive for investors and without it we might have to offer a higher interest rate which we might not be able to afford.) Once again we put our shoulder to the wheel, and brought forward our second share offer before the EIS scheme was withdrawn. Again investors put their faith in us and we raised over £100,000 in three weeks towards the capital costs of the new projects.

We will post further news on the website when we know:

1.      Which projects have been successfully pre-accreditation and

2.      What the Board's plans are to raise the balance of the capital.

We really didn't need this huge and stressful volume of activity in the last 6 months of 2015, when we just wanted to get on with our first projects, and we also had some disappointing news on the major project at Westfield. SSE, the electricity distributor for Westfield, finally replied on the connection to the school, and the capacity was much lower than what we hoped and what Solarsense expected. Solarsense and their sub-suppliers worked hard to re-optimise the electrical design to minimise the impact of the limitation, and although we will not achieve the Feed In Tariffs we were predicting, we believe that we will have sufficient to achieve the target interest rate in the share prospectus, although possibly not in the first year. So we were putting up the panels while designing how they would be connected up! We also had to negotiate the legal agreements of Roof Lease and Power Purchase, not only with the school governors but also with Somerset County Council, who retain the freehold of the Academy. It was all a bit of a race against time considering the workload of Solarsense (due to the deadlines) and the need to get the commissioning witnessed by SSE, but I am very pleased to report that we managed to get the complete registration application submitted for both Westfield Academy and Abbey Manor community hall before the year ran out, and the school is generating electricity as we write.

We feel as if we have been fighting forest fires for the last 6 months, but we believe we have triumphed in the face of adversity.

We are now looking forward to a more peaceful 2016 in which we can generate lots of kWh from lots of sunshine and all benefit from the hard won success.

I would like to give my thanks to my co-directors Chris and David, accountant Judith and our database manager Gail: to Stephen Barrett, David Snape, Russell Mees, David Western, Jim Kenny, Marley Bursell and all the back-up team at Solarsense; Mark Payne and the governors at Westfield; Richard Jackson and the committee at Abbey Manor; the Principals and business managers at Holyrood, Stanchester and Preston Academies; Alex Lawrie at SCS; Lisa and Adam at Ethex; Alistair Macpherson at Plymouth Energy Community; Keith Wheaton-Green of South Somerset District Council; and Chris Pritchett at Foot Anstey. Special thanks go to Olivia Garran who carried out Energy Performance Certificate assessments at very short notice over her Christmas holiday.

I would finally like to remind you that if you are investors, you are Members of the Society. We founding directors are only in post until the AGM, when you will elect the new officers: we will be writing to you again soon with proposed AGM dates.

Our best wishes for 2016, and many thanks to our members for putting your faith in us.

John Clark – Chairman

January 2016

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