During the period from July to October OVESCO spent
time finding the right partners for community PV projects focus on
projects under 50kW, because of the 1st August cuts for so called large
scale PV. We talked to our District/County Council, schools, Parish
Councils, local ethical businesses and local community football club.
Many of the meetings were out of normal working hours and required time
for projects to develop and build trust between our potential partners.
Initial site surveys were conducted at ten sites in the Lewes District
at OVESCO’s cost. Installers were invited to quote for projects and
OVESCO used experience gained from the Harveys PV project to develop
financial models to see which sites were viable for a community
investment. OVESCO set aside smaller projects for the future and decided
to concentrate on a total of 120kW of PV at three sites made up of two
secondary schools (approx 50kW each) and a village hall (20kW). Working
to a completion date in March 2012, OVESCO undertook full site surveys
and paid an engineer to produce structural calculations. Plans were
drawn up for planning applications and partners (building owners) were
asked to commit to the projects, which would supply their building with
free electricity from the PV panels in return for a 25 year lease.
OVESCO’s solicitor was asked to start drawing up lease documents and
quotes were sought for insurance. All this work cost OVESCO time and
money, which was in short supply, but we were confident or business plan
would provide a secure future for our community backed business.

When rumours of the FiT cuts started came out at the end of October 2011, OVESCO decided to focus on Priory Secondary School in Lewes (reduced to 30kW) and the Village Hall
(20kW) as key projects. Panic followed once the date of the 12th
December 2011 was released. Our installers were swamped with worried
clients, the DNO started to say they could not confirm projects would be
signed off before the 12th of December and our partners became anxious
about the planning applications.

Yesterday (8 November ’11) East Sussex County Council (acting for Priory
School) confirmed  planning would not be in place until after the 8th
of December, so we had to stop the Priory Secondary School PV project.
Today (9 November ’11) the Parish Council said we could not go ahead
with the Village Hall project, because planning would not be confirmed
until after the 12th December, so this project is also on hold.

Over a period of two weeks OVESCO has gone from 120kW of solid community
base projects, all linked to work with our communities on energy
efficiency for homes, to NO PROJECTS and just wasted time and money! To
summarise: during the week commencing 21 October I have to stand in
front of 1200 pupils at Priory School – keen to hear about PV panels at
their school as part of the schools energy efficiency work. What do I
tell them? Has OVESCO failed them or Government? OVESCO is a
community owned company focused on energy efficiency and local renewable
decentralised power generation. The FiT supplies our future income for
our communities benefit and helps us to inspire other communities to do
the same.

A summary for FoE of what you had expected the landscape to be with
regard to tariffs running until April and the consultation itself – and
why what was announced was a surprise: the previous Fit cuts for 50kW+
allowed a short period of time for the industry to adjust. From a
community perspective the cuts affected a number of projects at the
50-100kW scale. OVESCO was one of the few community projects to get in
just in time for their project completed. OVESCO’s project at
Harvey Brewery inspired other communities to follow with their own
projects, working on multiple projects less than 50kW in size.
The
latest cuts announced last week, only allow a six week period for
community projects to be installed. Community lead PV projects cannot
adjust to such a short time span because they take time to set up. The proposed date of 12 December 2011 will see most community projects now fail, including all those developed by OVESCO. Government
has rightly reviewed the FiT for PV, but has not taken into account the
effect this will have on community lead projects or projects run for
the benefit of social housing. Moving the date of 12 December
2011 back to 31 March 2012 for community lead PV projects, would at
least give those projects time to install and this would benefit those
who have the most to gain from the PV FiT for the future benefit of
their communities.

Chris Rowland, Director, OVESCO