Following a supportive community consultation event in December 2018 at St George Community Centre, Bristol Energy Cooperative has been working with Renewables First to design an urban hydro-electric scheme at Netham Weir. The project timeline was initially orientated towards a 31 March 2019 deadline, in order to pre-accredit for the last of the hydro Feed in Tariffs (FiTs).
BEC secured the necessary Planning and Environment Agency approvals, and land agreements were secured for a timely FiT submission to Ofgem but unfortunately, and unexpectedly, our application has fallen foul of a Deployment Cap (the amount of money in the fund) in the particular tariff band for this size of turbine.
We knew this was a risk, but the hydro community is truly shocked that a number of schemes in this tariff band have missed out on FiT subsidy, as all the intelligence along the way pointed to there being significantly fewer applications than money available. Other FiT tariff bands have not been fully used, and we are reliably informed there will be failed and duplicate applications in our tariff band that will never receive FiTs. However, Ofgem rules suggest that none of this unused money in this last FiT round will be re-allocated to unsuccessful projects.
Whilst this setback is obviously a major disappointment after all the hard work and expense that had gone into meeting the FiT application deadline. However, this does present us with an opportunity to tackle our first large unsubsidised renewable energy project. This is something Bristol Energy Cooperative needs to do if we are to continue to increase the amount of community owned renewable energy projects in the UK’s new post-subsidy world, and we are starting with a well worked up project.
The BEC Board has embraced this challenge and agreed to explore project viability on an unsubsidised basis. This will involve looking carefully at project costs, negotiating the best possible commercial terms for electricity sale, and probably most import of all, looking at ways of reducing our financing costs.