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Saving lives with solar PV

The main building and Post-Graduate Medical Centre at County Hospital, Stafford, have been fitted with solar panels to supply the site with electricity, enough for more than 3000 MRI scans per year!

County HospitalA scheme that has fitted solar panels to various hospital buildings in Stoke and Stafford has benefits all round - to the local health service, to the environment, and to the investor. University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM), which includes County Hospital in Stafford, teamed up with Southern Staffordshire Community Energy (SSCE) and the Stoke-based charity Beat the Cold to raise over £345,000 via a share issue to fund eight installations of solar PV on hospital roofs, amounting to 276 kilowatt peak capacity.

The share issue closed two days short of its deadline in 2016, having reached its target and attracting over 80 investors. This gave the green light to install 1089 panels, which produce an estimated 225 megawatt hours of electricity per year, enough to power an operating theatre for nearly 2300 hours, and saving over 2300 tonnes of carbon dioxide over the project lifetime. Some panels have also been fitted to St Giles Hospice in Whittington, near Lichfield, as part of the scheme.

'This Community Energy Project is...a unique opportunity for private investment
to enhance environmental, financial and social sustainability'

Louise Webster - Head of Environmental Sustainability, UHNM

Community fund to combat fuel poverty

A unique feature of the scheme is the Community fund, which helps patients with respiratory and other problems who face going back to damp, cold homes, conditions that exacerbate their illnesses. Advisors from Beat the Cold recommend measures to make homes warmer and healthier, thereby reducing the risk of the occupant being readmitted to hospital. This in turn reduces pressure on NHS services, especially over winter when services are already stretched. These so-called 'frequent fliers' are said to cost the NHS £2.3 billion per year. Moreover, fuel poverty in Stafford and Stoke is above the national average, in some places three times the average, and each winter sees around 400 deaths in Staffordshire due to the cold alone.County Hospital sign

Revenue comes from two sources: (i) the Feed-in Tariff, which thanks to pre-registration in 2015, will yield 11.85 pence per kilowatt hour, index-linked over the 20-year tariff lifetime; and (ii) the sale of electricity to the UHNM Trust, which pays nearly 10 p/kWh (index-linked) to SSCE for the project lifetime. Most of the electricity generated will be used on site, hence avoiding problems with expensive, high-capacity grid connection that often face solar PV schemes. Moreover, the favourable electricity price helps in part to insulate the Trust from future rises in energy prices.

Interest to investors

Surplus from this income is divided between paying interest to shareholders and the Community Fund. The target return to members of the scheme is 4.5% annually, averaged over the lifetime of the scheme; payments will be lower in the early years, increasing as the available surplus grows year on year. Changes in tax law mean that such schemes are no longer eligible for tax relief, but interest payments may well be tax-free as part of the new Personal Savings Allowance. Shares can only be sold back to SSCE at their discretion for no more than their face value of £1 each, and not before the third year of operation of the scheme.

Hospitals' sustainability vision

UHNM Trust has an ambitious three-pronged programme for the years to 2020. The Sustainable Development Management Plan - 'Our Vision 2020' - aims to reduce the Trust's environmental impact; to build healthy, sustainable and resilient communities; and to focus on prevention and more sustainable models of clincial care. The solar PV scheme fits well into this overall picture. SSCE has a proven track record in community energy, having set up the £1 million Chase Community Solar scheme in 2015.