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Chase Community Solar:
fruition of pioneering PV project

bungalows with panelsUp to 300 council-owned properties in the Cannock Chase district benefit from solar panels under the Chase Community Solar project.

Midsummer was an appropriate time for the inaugural AGM of Chase Community Solar, the groundbreaking project to install solar PV on 300 council-owned properties in the Cannock Chase district. The sun shone as attendees were given a short guided tour around the Chadsmoor area before the meeting at the offices of Support Staffordshire Cannock Chase. They looked at some of the nearly 200 installs done under the scheme since work started in April. The sites selected have been chiefly bungalows housing elderly tenants, who typically see their electric bills cut by £100-200 per year as a result of the free electricity from the solar panels.

Successful share offer

Chair of Chase Community Solar, Mike Kinghan, pointed out some of the pitfalls the scheme had encountered. One major and unforeseen hurdle had been the recommendation by structural engineers that many of the properties required roof reinforcement before panels could be fitted. This had added to the cost of the installations and reduced the potential rate of return. Also, the income from the feed-in tariff (FIT) had been cut due to a degression on 1 April. Nevertheless, return to investors was still anticipated to be around 6%, plus the benefit of tax relief on investments from the Enterprise Investment Scheme.

With the walkabout completed, Mike gave a resume of the project to the assembled investors and board members. The scheme had attracted a total of 188 investors drawn from across the UK and abroad, including Greece and Germany. Of these, around 50% came through the online social investment website Ethex, and another 30% through personal contact. The average amount invested was about £4500. Only four investors were local to the Cannock area, which is a comparatively low local 'buy-in' compared to schemes in other areas. Nevertheless, the share offer was very successful, reaching over £800,000 by early February 2015, and closing a week or so early.

Target: 300 properties

By mid-June, the installer, J. Tomlinson, was well on the way to the target of 300 installs, averaging about 20 per week. The work was being done to a high standard, and tenants welcomed the teams fitting the new technology to their roofs. Indeed, the installer had allocated a tenant liaison officer to explain to tenants exactly what the work entailed and how to get the most benefit from the panels. As one tenant had remarked: 'If it keeps the bills a little bit lower, that'll be good!'Roy and Mike

The electricity generated by all the panels in the scheme is monitored remotely by signals from a Sim card in each property. These data are then sent to energy partner, Good Energy, who make payments to the scheme according to the FIT. This arrangement also allows the installer to detect any possible malfunctioning of the panels on an individual property so that steps can be taken to check that everything is working correctly.

Chase Community Solar chair, Mike Kinghan (right) with council tenant Roy Maydew, who has invested in the scheme. Roy says: 'It's a win-win situation for me - not only getting the electricity but also earning interest .'

Interest in 'groundbreaking' scheme

Mike said that the project had attracted lots of interest from other parts of the country, who were looking to replicate it in their own area. However, he was hoping that anticipated changes to the FIT would not damage the viability of such schemes; indeed, government could take steps to ensure greater financial certainty, such as freezing the FIT rate while capital was being raised and the scheme brought to fruition.