Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Tresoc - dispatches from the front line of community renewable energy development

Dear all

Its been over 6 months since the Tresoc Team reported on the state of affairs of the Society to our loyal and patient members at the AGM.  Our press releases and members emails tend to focus on newsworthy events but its been quite busy at Tresoc control since December and now seems to be a good time for an update on progress in achieving what we set out to do at the AGM; to bring Tresoc into profit in the current financial year.

Following the AGM, we've completed the award winning SHINE Project with South Devon Rural Housing Association with the proceeds of our 2014 share offer and drawn down a loan of £168,000 from the Charity Bank to purchase the solar roof at Hatchlands Farm.

Some of you have taken up the exclusive offer to Tresoc members to buy shares in Dart Renewables Ltd, the developers and owners of the hydro power station at Totnes Weir, now supplying KEVICCs and the Foundry on Babbage Road Industrial Estate with cheap, carbon neutral electricity.  This has had the additional happy effect of giving the Tresoc coffers a bit of a boost for the benefit of all our members.  In return for promoting the share offer, Tresoc has received £9,120 in cash, 3% of the total £304,000 raised, plus 1% of the shares in DRL, a company with a current market value i.r.o. £3,000,000.

It's highly encouraging to be working with the Charity and Triodos banks, both supporting development of the community energy sector, with a positive view of the prospects for sustainable growth.

2 weeks ago, in association with the Hydrosense Consortium and Triodos Bank, Tresoc established the Staverton Hydro Community Benefit Society Ltd to develop, own and operate a new 100 kW hydro power station at Staverton Leat.   Fishtek, members of the Hydrosense Consortium, have been engaged over the past year with local anglers and the Environment Agency to obtain an abstraction licence to draw water through the leat.  Tresoc has started work with Staverton residents to explore how best to ensure that the power plant will be of real benefit to the local community. We're aiming to be ready to raise capital through a share offer organised by Triodos Bank at the end of 2016, to build and commission in the Spring of 2017.  

Right now, we're consolidating all the legal and administrative work involved in the ownership and operation of these assets into Tresoc's business management systems.  We're also upgrading our financial capabilities with staff training in Sage business software, from our accountants, Darnells, in preparation for the next phase of the Society's growth.  Amongst many other functions, Sage will enable us to improve the speed and accuracy of our financial forecasting and calculate how much interest we expect to pay to members from projected profit in the current year.  With that piece of information, and depending on the rate of interest we can afford to pay, we are considering another small Tresoc share offer to finance new community owned solar roof installations at Lescaze House and Bidwell Brook School in Dartington.

Also back on the drawing board is on-farm anaerobic digestion at Old Parsonage Farm, Dartington with new tenant farmer, Jon Perkin, the Dartington Hall Trust and Totnes company, New Generation Biogas. We have a new Tresoc intern about to contact local catering establishments to see if we can find a way to make it easier and more profitable for them to put their food waste into a bin to supplement farmyard manure feedstock for the digester.  Food "waste" not only makes the operation more productive but also adds valuable nutrients to the digestate for use as a high quality, balanced fertiliser on the farm.

I'm pleased to say that there are other projects in the pipeline at this very exciting period in the growth of community owned renewable energy in Totnes, and beyond.  It's hard to judge how much information to make public about projects in the early stages of development in a commercially competitive environment.  One thing that is certain about a business plan is that it never turns out exactly as expected but we are acutely aware of the value of keeping our members informed about what we're doing and where we're heading.

This is my first excursion into the blogosphere and your constructive comments would be most welcome.  I can't commit to answer every question that might be raised in your comments but please be assured that they will be noted.  Do please feel free to ask me about Tresoc if you see me in Totnes. And here's to more sunshine and rain, plenty of both at the moment, fuelling the growth of your local community owned renewable energy Society!

Ian Bright
Managing Director
22nd June 2016

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

How do we continue the growth of renewable energy?

An energy system based on renewable sources is the future. So how fast can we get there at a reasonable cost? What are the barriers? These debates have come to the forefront of UK politics with the Paris climate change agreement and the focus on cost control from government.
The renewable energy sector contributed 25.3% of the UK electricity generation in the second quarter of 2015 up from just 4% in 2008. The south west is seeing some of the most pronounced gains, due to our excellent wind and solar resources. The dramatic growth in renewables in the south west is testament to the dynamic companies and entrepreneurs who have driven the sector.  The south west has also seen an explosion of community energy groups developing their own local energy resources for the benefits of their community.

The key challenge for renewable energy in the UK is drastic reductions in support from the government – at the same time as they are propping up fossil fuel and nuclear generators. The new subsidy system for small scale renewables (Feed-in Tariff or FIT) has a system of caps on deployment and less budget.

However, outside the UK there is a rapid global shift towards renewables. We are close to grid parity in some technologies – the point at which renewable energy does not require subsidy support in order to be viable. This has largely been driven by reductions in cost, for example solar PV prices are 80% lower than in 2008.

The other key barrier to development of new renewable energy projects in the south west is the lack of capacity on the electricity distribution network (grid), particularly for larger projects (more than 50kW – approx. 182 solar PV panels). Installations need a connection in order to export their electricity to the grid and gain an income. Household installations are still viable in most cases.
There are solutions to challenges posed by the limits on the grid including: flexible grid connection agreements - used to limit the amount of electricity exported to the grid at certain times; energy storage alongside renewables to reduce peak output; and demand side response - where consumers adjust the amount of electricity they use at particular times in response to a signal (e.g. a price reduction) from a supplier.

Renewable energy is at a cross roads, having grown rapidly it is now having to adapt to continue that success without government support. The solution is a radical smart decentralised energy system – which the south west is well placed to lead.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Punishing the success?

Renewable energy capacity in the UK has grown in the last few years. The statistics of this show its importance in the energy mix. For example, in the first quarter of 2015 the share of electricity generation reached by renewables was 22.3%. That’s almost a quarter for that annual quarter! Or put another way, renewable energy (RE) generated 21.2 billion kWh[i] – that is equivalent to providing electricity to 21.2 million average UK households for that quarter. That is 80% of all households in the UK[ii]. Impressive! Important? Indeed! Of course, to keep it in context, most of the electricity generated by renewables feeds the national grid and is therefore not only used for households. But, as an illustration, if it was: almost all UK households would be powered by RE in Q1 of 2015! But, oh, the current government seems to think RE is not worth subsidising, that there is enough RE now - that its better to woo the Chinese to invest in nuclear and to support fracking. Nuclear, with its dubious long-term business plan (how do you plan for waste disposal costs that stretch way into the future), and fracking with its dubious short-term business case (wells don’t last very long)….

That first quarter of this year the RE generation was an increase on the same period in 2014 and this was largely due to an increase in RE capacity. Which was an increase on the year before. Imagine if we could keep that up – we’d soar past a quarter of all electricity generated being very low or no carbon! We’d power the equivalent of more than all the houses in the UK. Surely, when a new industry has risen so spectacularly to the challenge, it should be promoted and lauded? Allowed to sprint ahead? Instead its legs are being cut off at the knees. That is what the radical and sudden slashing of feed-in-tariffs (FiTs) is doing. Did you know that 148,000kW of capacity was installed under the FiT in Q1 of 2015. That brought the total up to 3.6 million kW of RE installed, thanks to the support it was getting! You could switch on about 1.5 million electric kettles all at once with a capacity like that!

In fact all RE increased – onshore wind from 6.7TWh for Q1 in 2014 to 7TWh for Q1 in 2015, offshore wind increased by 22%, hydro by 9.5% and PV by 3.6%. In Scotland the stats are really impressive: in 2014 half of all the electricity used came from renewables! In the first quarter of 2015 wind power produced the equivalent of the needs of nearly 4 million Scottish homes for that quarter[iii]. In June wind supplied a third of all Scotland’s electricity needs. This was an increase of 120% over the year before[iv]. Then, as if that wasn’t amazing enough, in July wind broke its own record supplying 36% of all electricity needs (or 72% of all Scottish homes): a whopping 660 million kWh. On eight days of that windy month 100% of Scottish homes were supplied by wind power[v]! A significant player in the energy mix? Yes!

But. I wonder if we will be able to say the same in Q1 of 2016. With the proposed almost 90% cut in FiT for solar PV and the halting of onshore wind, it is likely that very little, if any, new capacity will be added in early 2016. It’s confusing, seeing that the stats are so impressive. You’d think it would be further supported, that the politicians would blow their trumpets. They’d pat each other on the back and continue with the program that has been so successful and produced so many jobs and powered a significant portion of Britain’s electricity needs – all with near zero carbon emissions. How isn’t that a success story?

In the meantime, globally RE electricity has just become the second largest source of electricity at 22% of the total[vi]. Over the last 25 years global solar PV has averaged increase of early 45% a year, while wind increased at just over 27%. Indeed, it is a success story! 

Let’s be clear. RE subsidies do need to be slowly phased out. But this should be done at a rate to allow the industry to mature, to gain grid parity and in consultation with the industry. Let’s be even more clear – its not as if fossil technologies are NOT getting subsidies and support. They are! So then these should be phased out too – maybe more rapidly seeing they are larger and been applied for longer. The International Monetary Fund states that the UK fossil fuel sector is receiving subsidies of more than £26 billion this year – that is more than 7 times that of renewable energy[vii]. Renewable Energy World published that in the OECD states there are 800 ways taxpayer money supports fossil fuel industries and at about $167 billion - far exceeds the value of subsidies for renewables. An example is that the oil industry is able to write off most drilling costs in full and immediately, rather than at normal business depreciation costs[viii]. This is NOT a level playing field! And yet RE is considered “too expensive” compared to fossil fuels….?

As the Renewable Energy Association puts it, the “bonfire of renewable policies” continues. If I was an outside bystander I’d be interested to see how the UK government is going to respond to high-level criticism of their new lack of support for this important industry, for creating investor non-confidence, for costing jobs. But none of us are bystanders. We are all affected by the UK government’s lack of vision, as the rest of the world seems to be supporting renewable energy.

Alastair Gets

Director of Engineering

[i] Electricity consumption 94.9TWh in Q1 of 2015 []
[ii] The average unadjusted electricity consumption per household in 2014 was 4,001 kilowatt hours (kWh), [DECC, ECUK Tables 3.07] and there are about 26.5 million households in the UK
[iii] Calculated from figures from renews (online) article 25/6/15
[iv] Figures from renews (online) article 6/7/15
[v] Figures from renews (online) article 4/8/15
[vi] International Energy Agency as cited by Alex Kirby of Climate News Network, August 19, 2015
[vii] Calculated from renews (online) article 4/8/15
[viii] Article by Kraemer, S. Renewable Energy World, June 10, 2015

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Community energy shines

TRESOC is poised to launch the Shine Project! This is an extensive social housing roof-top solar project in the South Hams. It is worth noting that in 2014, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), more than 125,000 homes in the UK installed roof-top solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The Shine Project alone will add over 70 homes to the 2015 tally. The installations will benefit from the feed-in tariff (FiT) offered by Ofgem, which gives a set income for each unit of electricity generated for the next 20 years. At the same time the tenants of the homes benefit from reduced electricity costs. Looking more broadly, the Solar Trade Association stated that 700MW of PV FiT projects were completed in 2014 in the UK. That is equivalent to about 58 million low-energy light bulbs! Ofgem reports that overall in the UK the FiT scheme has passed 3GW of installations. That is equivalent to an impressive 250 million low energy lights bulbs or 1.2 million electric kettles! The 3GW is made up of over half a million projects of which 99% are PV projects. By the way, the SW comes about tops with 16% of all FiT projects (London and the SE comes in second with 14%).

The scale of FiT installations is twice the number forecast by DECC. Clearly when these schemes are introduced there is good uptake. This reduces the need for building additional power stations - large infrastructure projects taking years to complete and at increasingly huge budgets. The 3GW FiT ‘power station’ was completed in 4 years. How’s that for keeping the lights burning! I have just returned from South Africa where the lights are not always burning due to a lack of capacity. Load shedding is happening and South Africans are subjected to electricity cuts for 2 hours a day on a rotational basis – and this is expected to go on for 2 to 3 years at huge cost to business and inconvenience residents. You may think, “Ah, but that is a developing country”. Well, the UK is getting dangerously close to the same situation – in winter 2011 there was a 17% reserve margin, this winter it is at only 4%. Generally a reserve margin of 15% is accepted as robust and able to handle any unforeseen power station failures – 4% seems quite a bit below this! In addition to helping with capacity, the uptake of FiT clean energy projects would also contribute to climate change mitigation. The UK Climate Change Act of 2008 sets out to reduce carbon emissions by 80% from the 1990 baseline by 2050. Any electricity generated by clean energy would help reach this target.

Decentralised locally owned power generation creates a more stable network and better power security. For this reason, and those above, it should be encouraged, right? So why then is the FiT programme being scaled back? The residential roof top solar FiT will fall for the first time since 2012 after April this year - that may well reduce the uptake. While it is widely thought that solar will become the cheapest form of energy there is a transition period where schemes such as the FiT will encourage the installation by community groups or individuals and clean energy will be fed into the national grid.

Despite the regression of FiT the growth of community energy continues to increase. Recently Albion Community Power in Scotland received a £50million loan from the UK Green Investment Bank and a further £10million from the Strathclyde Pension Fund. Albion is looking for £100million to invest in various renewable energy projects such as run-of-river hydro projects - that is flow through a hydro turbine and back into the river without major damming, similar to the proposed hydro plant at the River Dart weir in Totnes. The first Albion project is a 2MW hydro scheme in Chaorach north of Loch Lomond. The project pipeline also extends to onshore wind on previously used, and often contaminated, sites as well as projects of biogas from organic waste.

Business Secretary Vice Cable said in relation to Albion’s plans: “Renewable energy is the future”. Indeed, a Mintel study stated that 77% of people in the UK want more renewable energy and that 78% support PV on new houses. The survey stated that if we have to have an electricity generating plant in our backyard, then the most desirable is a solar farm while a large portion said that nuclear was the least desirable. It seems the sun is indeed shining on community and renewable energy!

Thanks to reNEWS ( for much of the information regurgitated here –a newsletter appears daily in my inbox!

Alastair Gets
Project Officer

Thursday, 27 March 2014

TRESOC Spring Share Issue – note from MD, Ian Bright

We have a new look website to make it easier for our members and supporters to stay involved and up to date with the latest TRESOC news – more later in this article!  We’ve also added an on-line Forum where TRESOC members can air their views, raise questions and generally chat about issues of the day. You can register using your name and membership number (on your share certificate).  Only TRESOC members can comment and all posts can be seen on line.

And we’re kicking off the discussion with great news about our 1 MW for Totnes & District Share Issue.  Those of you who came to the AGM in December will know that following refusal of the Totnes Community Wind Farm planning application last year (see previous blog entry) we’ve been extra busy with other projects. All this hard work is now paying off in the form of new consented solar pv and hydro power projects.  Specifically, we have reached agreement with South Devon Rural Housing Association to install solar panels on all of their suitable properties.  The Survey work is nearly complete and over 100 households will soon enjoy a source of free electricity, helping out some of those most at risk of fuel poverty and supporting growth in the local economy through our project partnership with BECO Solar.  TRESOC will benefit from the Feed in Tariff income, enabling payment of dividends to our members.  

We’ve also secured agreement with Dart Renewables for a £500,000 community investment in the hydro project at Totnes Weir, and more at other hydro power sites on the Rivers Teign and Dart.  With extra solar schemes in the pipeline this adds up to a TRESOC investment package in consented local renewable energy projects with a combined value of more than £1.5 million.  

With the Government’s Community Energy Strategy and other measures supporting growth in community renewables this is a huge opportunity for local people to earn a healthy income from large and small investments in local renewable energy installations.  It will also provide TRESOC with working capital to develop more projects in solar, hydro and various forms of biomass – and who knows – maybe another wind project one day!  

We’re finishing off the detailed legal agreements necessary to realise these fantastic opportunities in our Share Issue, scheduled for April.  Meanwhile, we’ll keep you informed of progress and look forward to hearing more from our members through the on-line Members Forum.

Many thanks and best wishes to all TRESOC members and supporters,
Ian Bright, Managing Director

Thursday, 6 March 2014

River/tidal energy: The Anchor Stone Project

The story of our Anchor Stone Channel research project demonstrates that making progress with Community Energy is as much about relationships as projects.

Back in March 2013, TRESOC was hopeful that the channel of water passing through the Anchor Stone Channel, near the National Trust's Greenway property would be suitable for producing renewable energy at a small scale (kilowatts rather than megawatts).

It had been observed that the water is around 20 meters deep just there, much deeper than at other parts of the river, and the strength of the tidal flow had carved out the channel at this point.  The Anchor Stone is a pinch point, where large bodies of water from above Dittisham are forced through a narrow channel, by virtue of the topography... the perfect circumstances for a research project.

In the summer of 2013, TRESOC collaborated with Plymouth University's School of Marine Science & Engineering to create a project for Masters student, Francesca Ford, to assess the potential for producing electricity there.  Using the Plymouth University boat, Falcon Spirit, which came around the coast from Plymouth, a sonar measuring device was positioned on the river bed, just south of the Anchor Stone.  Francesca analysed the data and wrote up the project as part of her Master’s degree.  The strength and volume of flows in and out each day were measured for one month, to cover a full lunar cycle.

As part of our community engagement efforts, we hosted a meeting in June 2013 in Dittisham where interested members of the community could attend to hear more about the project, and take a trip out on a boat to view the site.  About 40 people came along to discuss what this might mean for the community, with many people in favour, in principle, of the idea.  For a write up of this day with photos, by one of our supporters, visit The Occam's Typewriter Irregulars blog: 

The results of Francesca Ford’s research were shared 
at an event hosted by TRESOC, in the Civic Hall in Totnes on 4th December 2013.  Unfortunately, Francesca determined that the average speed of the current at this particular location is not of sufficient speed to power an existing renewable energy device.  Although the speed of the current is quite high at times, the average speed – including tides and periods of slack water – shows that there is insufficient volume of water and speed of flow to warrant the installation of a device.

It is likely that at a future date, the technology develop such that the energy in low flow rates will be harnessed, opening up possibilities for Community Energy groups located along lots of rivers.  This might take up to seven years, but the industry is moving in this direction, making ever more sensitive devices.  

Just as importantly, our relationship with Plymouth University led to the entire MRE Masters cohort being involved in collaborative research, culminating in a presentation given at the same event (poster below): Investment Opportunities in Marine Renewable Energy in Devon and Cornwall.  Their research highlights 4 possible areas that appear promising.  Their presentation can be downloaded here (very large file size):

We look forward to hearing again from Plymouth University with more concrete proposals. Together we can make things happen.

Alix Riley, TRESOC

Totnes Community Wind Farm: no regrets

The founder members of the Totnes Renewable Energy Society were, and still are, an ambitious bunch of people.  The sheer scale of the challenges of dealing with climate change and fossil fuel depletion demand big solutions.  Nor can the laws of physics be denied, and the simple fact is that wind turbines offer the most abundant and cost effective source of renewable energy available to us.  

Finding suitable sites for wind turbines that meet planning and commercial criteria is a specialist job and a very great deal of professional expertise is needed to prepare a planning application.  And so, in 2008, soon after the formation of the Society in 2007, we contacted Dorset based wind developer, Infinergy, to ask if they would be interested to work with a local community owned renewable energy society to explore the possibility of wind power for Totnes and the surrounding parishes.

When Infinergy ran their wind prospecting software they found, as other wind developers have found before them; that the best local site for wind development, taking all planning criteria into account, is at Luscombe Cross.  There followed 18 months of careful and confidential negotiation with the Agent before all agreements were signed and the first TRESOC share issue was launched in 2010.  

Infinergy confirmed that, taking all planning criteria into consideration the best site for wind developmentIt has been a 6 year journey of discovery and steep learning curves for everyone involved.  From the first desktop studies to find the best site for a wind turbine, contacting the land agent, negotiating legal agreements and preparing the planning application.  We are rightly proud of the quality of the work that was done by TRESOC working in close partnership with a highly skilled and well-motivated team of wind development professionals.  Sir Jonathan Porritt, in his letter of support, describes the Totnes Community Wind Farm Planning Application as “one of the best designed and well supported applications we have seen”  Not good enough though for the local planning authority who turned it down on the grounds of the view.  We had steeled ourselves for rejection by the local authority but were not prepared Infinergy’s decision not to appeal.

The choice to develop a large scale wind energy as the first project amongst our portfolio was a conscious choice. It remains the most cost-effective way of generating renewable energy and we had identified the best suitable site in our locality with the help of the developer. This was an excellent investment opportunity for our members and would be a significant generator locally. 

The substantial public engagement that we provided raised the profile of the development locally. With the benefit of hindsight, this unintentionally hindered the project, as it enabled local opposition to organise and gain strength earlier than in a normal planning application. However we don't believe that this should have been done in a different way. The whole point of community renewable energy is to engage the local population and increase awareness whilst providing social and financial benefits.

Totnes Community wind farm has given us a good degree of experience from which we have learnt from. We want the embryonic community energy industry to gain from our insights, so if you have any questions please get in touch.

Ian Bright
Managing Director