|Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said: "The expansion of our reformed Feed-in Tariff will encourage even more communities to get on board.”|
New proposals to benefit community energy schemes have been unveiled by the Government.
In its response to feedback from community groups on the type of financial incentive that works best for them, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has said it will increase the generation threshold under which community projects are eligible for feed-in tariffs (FITs) to enable larger projects to benefit.
Support for community renewable projects over 5MW is currently available under the Renewables Obligation (RO). But this pays a lower amount per kilowatt-hour than that available under FITs.
The reforms, to be written into the Energy Bill and underpinned by secondary legislation, will permit community schemes up to 10MW in size to continue to benefit from the levels of support available to those below 5MW.
Projects such as solar PV on school roofs or panels on libraries, community owned wind turbines and hydro power from local streams could all benefit under the proposed new rules.
There is also money on offer to pay for excess power exported back to the grid.
Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said: "The Coalition is determined to drive a step change in the deployment of community energy.
"We want to help consumers, businesses and communities generate more of their own clean, green electricity locally, becoming less reliant on centralised power generation. The expansion of our reformed Feed-in Tariff will encourage even more communities to get on board.”
The announcement comes on top of the launch last week of a £15 million Renewable Community Energy Fund to help community groups with the cost of feasibility studies and seeking planning permission.
DECC is also keen to explore what needs to be done to kickstart even more projects across the UK, with a call for evidence currently underway and the UK’s first community energy strategy to be launched in the Autumn.
The call for evidence wants to hear about the potential benefits of community energy, the barriers to community energy, and what might be innovative and new approaches.
The proposed changes to the FITs rules will be made as part of the Energy Bill process. Once this Bill comes into force, the Government will consult on what it will mean in practice for community schemes.
The Solar Trade Association welcomed the proposals. Its chief executive, Paul Barwell, said: “Community solar farms on lower grade agricultural land help farmers diversify their risk away from increased weather risks to their land, while at the same time fostering dual purpose land use and biodiversity. Community ownership will help secure better community acceptance for more ambitious solar farms over the existing 5MW threshold.”
However, the STA believes that there is still an issue which needs clarifying that is preventing many community schemes from getting off the ground.
Currently all solar schemes over 50kW (the size of e.g. a school scheme) are subject to very stringent capacity constraints. For example, in any quarter, if more than 200MW of capacity of 50kW+schemes is installed, this will result in a 28% cut in all the tariffs from 50kW through to 5MW.
Furthermore, for schemes over 250kW (larger commercial or community schemes), the FIT is too low to work, leading to just a handful of projects at this size since last July. This is despite schemes over 250kW being more cost effective than many large-scale renewables supported under the Renewables Obligation (RO).
STA Head of External Affairs, Leonie Greene, said: “Solar is being unfairly constrained. It is this 'normal' mid-size of solar, dominant in markets overseas, that needs urgent attention.”
The STA is currently finalising its best practice guidance for high standards in solar farm construction, which recommend avoiding prime grade agricultural land, and provide a set of criteria which developers, builders and land tenants can use to ensure best practice.