Telford & Wrekin Council: Publicly owned solar farm

In 2014, Telford & Wrekin Council became only the second local authority in the UK to build a publicly owned solar farm. It took less than 18 months between the initial plans being proposed and construction being completed.


Introduction


 

The challenge and solutions

The main challenges associated with this project, alongside the ways of mitigating them were:

  • Planning – getting planning consent. We developed a community consultation statement (attached) and engagement plan to ensure that we involved the community in the project. The engagement plan has two main phases, details of which can be found in section 4.2.10 of the attached cabinet report.
  • Financial – the business case could not be finalised until quite late into the process and there were a number of aspects re: both costs and income that were subject to change. These included the cost of panels and Feed In Tariff (FIT) rates which varied. Small changes, for example in the price of panels or the FIT rates, would have a big impact on the business case due to the scale of the project.
  • Construction and Operating Issues – there are a wide range of challenges associated with the construction and operation of a solar farm, as this was a large and complex project to deliver. This included flooding/weather damage, panel failure, contract or insolvency etc. The project team had developed a risk register to ensure that risks were identified and managed.
  • Legal/Regulatory – specific external legal and tax advice was required. Advice was given by Legal Services, in conjunction with external solicitors, regarding the project. In particular the procurement of a contractor, any agreements that were required to become operational and any land and planning issues that could arise.

The impact

The solar farm is made up of more than 15,000 panels on a 11.7 hectares site and generates 18.63 GWh of green electricity to power more than 800 homes with a total carbon avoidance of over 9,000 tonnes. This has generated an income of £1.83m for the Council which is used to protect frontline services for residents. We were able to generate high income levels as the FIT payments were for generation. We managed to secure the rate before it degressed. We also received income by exporting the electricity through a Power Purchase Agreement.

Given the solar farm is publicly owned, the added value is around the commercial returns which are then used to protect frontline services for residents and the community, whilst also forming part of the Council’s wider energy strategy to aid a reduction in its carbon footprint. This wider strategy includes improving energy efficiency and energy generation in council buildings.

Lessons learned

  • the market is complex and volatile, so get advice
  • income is paid in arrears
  • consider degression
  • leave no stone unturned
  • be prepared for scrutiny/opposition
  • take calculated risks.

Among other risks this includes grid connection, construction and finance, details of which can be found in section 4.2.7 of the attached Cabinet report.

Relevant resources

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