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.