Jim Orr: City renewable scheme could prove winner

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The viability of new small renewable energy projects across the UK was hit badly in August with the announcement of significant imminent cuts to “feed in tariffs” – the UK government payments to incentivise small clean energy projects. Budget cuts were the main reason. It is true that the cost of, say, solar panels has declined significantly in recent years but during this time the average payback period was already over ten years. This will lengthen considerably with the proposed changes, which can only lead to fewer schemes, less clean energy generated in Scotland and continued dependence on the big trans-national energy companies.

Moreover, the changes to the incentive schemes take no account of the value of and challenges around community energy projects. Particularly in remote areas, community energy projects bring communities together, provide energy security and valuable sources of income. Unfortunately, there is no sign that the UK government are minded to do anything to protect and support them. There is speculation that the planned Applecross Community Hydro scheme in the Highlands, pre-accredited to preserve favourable tariff rates, will be the last of its kind for some time.

But there is some good news for those who want to invest in and support solar projects in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Community Solar Co-op share issue was launched to great acclaim in September and they are looking to raise £1.4 million to mount solar panels on 25 council buildings across the city and generate up to 1.5MW.

Like Applecross, the project is pre-accredited to earn more attractive tariffs and dividends are budgeted to be payable at rates of up to five per cent per year.

Information screens will be installed in the host buildings so that users will be able to monitor energy generation and usage – quite an exciting prospect for school children. In fact children under 16 can have shares purchased for them by parents and grandparents, providing an opportunity for a very unusual and ethical Christmas present.

It is hoped that the co-op will thrive and grow like the start-up company that it effectively is, and perhaps branch out into other renewable energy sectors or insulation schemes. There are risks to any share offer of course and anyone signing up for shares should read the prospectus carefully and consider taking financial advice. But like the advertising campaign says, “This is Edinburgh”. We do things well here. So let’s work together to cut carbon and pollution, and help local communities. Anyone interested in investing has until December 1 to do so.

Jim Orr is the independent councillor for Southside/Newington