Renewable Energy Group Hold Public Consultation On St Martin’s

The organisation that wants to build a solar garden on St Martin’s held a public consultation on the island on Friday.

Representatives from the Isles of Scilly Renewable Energy Co-operative, or ISREC, wanted to meet residents to explain their plans and provide information on how the organisation will operate.

Planning for the solar field, an array of solar panels covering an area 49m long and 7m wide, that could be set up in a field near the school and Lawrence’s Bay, was deferred at last month’s planning meeting to allow Councillors a chance to visit the site.

Jonathan Smith, who leases the field from the Duchy, told us the amount of electricity generated would be around 45,000 units each year, enough to power around twelve homes. They would operate all year round, even in overcast conditions, although peak power would be produced in the summer.

He says the reaction from neighbours in St Martin’s has been very positive.

However, critics of the scheme say the project is visually intrusive and they don’t like the change of use of the field, which was once used to grow crops, from agricultural to industrial.

The field where ISREC plan to build the solar garden

The field is low down, screened from the bay by sand dunes with only the upper area of the field visible, at a distance, from the highest point on St Mary’s.

Jonathan says the field has very sandy soil, which has always been difficult to cultivate and he feels the solar garden would be a more productive use of the land.

Lisa Magill from ISREC told us the co-operative was set up as a way to encourage renewable energy projects on the islands by capitalising on the feed-in tariffs available. The 11-member steering committee is currently establishing the feasibility of projects across the islands including the St Martin’s solar garden.

The not-for-profit organisation will offer shares to members of the public, with a minimum investment of £250 and a maximum of £20,000. Lisa says each member will have a single vote, irrespective of the amount they’ve invested and a maximum of 25% will be available to people living outside Scilly.

The money will then be used to fund renewable energy projects on the islands, with members receiving a modest return on their investment.

Lisa says it’s not possible to say how big that return could be because they’re still negotiating the costs of the project, a large part being the estimated £60,000 that will be required by Western Power to connect the solar garden to the substation.

She says this would give investors a return of around 2% but she hopes this may be higher if they can get the connection costs down.

Members of the ISREC Steering Committee at Friday's public meeting

The co-operative also hope they can bring together householders who may be thinking about putting solar panels on their own roofs, and provide a discount of up to 20% through bulk buying.

She said some of the money invested in the scheme might also be used to subsidise panels where the householder can’t afford them.

Another route would be for people who can’t put panels on their roof because of planning or technical issues, to invest in other people’s panels.

The co-operative would then keep some of the income, dependent on the degree of subsidy provided to the householder, which would be used to finance the co-operative’s ongoing activities.

Lisa says the scheme is modelled on one set up by the Duchy of Cornwall at Poundbury where 20% of the houses have panels on their roofs. The Duchy also set up a similar solar garden scheme there.

Duchy Land Steward, Chris Gregory, and Prince Charles, are quoted as saying that they are supportive of the potential of the St Martin’s scheme.

From Radio Scilly

Lisa Magill talks about ISREC and the St Martin’s project

It is expected that 70% of the total return from the various schemes will go back into the co-operative, from which dividends will be paid, and 30% will go to Low Carbon Scilly, a charitable organisation that will promote renewable energy and reduce the island’s carbon footprint.

Lisa says Low Carbon Scilly may be able to help with advice on, for example, insulating your home, and might even be able to negotiate better rates for materials.

She calls this a “virtual circle” where money raised by funding renewable energy production could support activities to reduce power requirements.

The group plan to hold a similar consultation session on St Mary’s later this month before the planning meeting, where the fate of the St Martin’s scheme will be decided.