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