Project name: Solar Connected Communities: Netherthird Initiative for Community Empowerment (NICE)
Technology: 24.51kW solar PV
Location: Netherthird, near Cumnock, East Ayrshire
CARES funding: Development Officer Time. Funding was also received from SP Energy Networks Green Economy Fund.
Date installed/operational: March 2020

Netherthird Initiative for Community Empowerment (NICE) is a community-based organisation focused on helping to make Netherthird a better, happier place. NICE operates from Netherthird Community Centre. The building includes a community-run gym, cafe, charity shop and has spaces for regular events.

Zero Waste Scotland initially worked with NICE to identify further energy efficiency opportunities at the centre. It produced a detailed summary report which highlighted the installation of solar PV at the community centre to further reduce its carbon emissions.

The FIT scheme closed to new applications in March 2019. Ofgem offered community organisations a 12-month extension through a simple pre-registration process. Communities interested in small solar PV projects (50 kW or less) could pre-register buildings with Ofgem and then have 12 months to get their project up and running but still receive FIT payments at the January 2019 rate. These payments are then guaranteed for 20 years.

Local Energy Scotland was keen to support NICE to make the most of this opportunity as the financial return is likely to be significantly more than developing projects without this support.

Project aims and objectives

The project specifically aimed to reduce the centre’s carbon emissions and improve its energy efficiency rating.

Profit from the FIT and the sale of electricity over the next 20 years will support the future charitable activities of NICE.

The project aims to have a lasting environmental, economic and social benefit on the communities which NICE serves. The project also aims to support community involvement and partnership working in local energy systems which may encourage new installations of locally owned renewable energy in the future.

NICE is now interested in partnering with East Ayrshire Council to install electric vehicle charging points at the community centre to support a community transport scheme that uses an electric fleet.

Outcomes and achievements

Local Energy Scotland supported NICE to pre-register for the FIT with Ofgem and obtain external private grant funding, which was required in order to remain eligible for FIT, for the capital installation costs.

NICE received approximately £21,873 from SPEN’s Green Economy Fund for the capital costs of installing the solar PV. Match funding was used from its reserves. NICE used the services of Emtec to install the 24.51kW solar PV system.

The project had to develop, build and secure the FIT within 12 months, and the solar panels became operational in March 2020.

The project is contributing towards the Scottish Government’s ambition to have 1GW of locally owned energy by 2020 and 2GW by 2030, as outlined in the Scottish Energy Strategy, its vision for the future of the energy system in Scotland.

First year carbon savings of 5.4 tonnes CO2 are expected, in addition to significant energy cost savings. The lifetime of the project is expected to be between 20 and 25 years.

The cost savings and surpluses that NICE makes are being reinvested into its work, which contributes to a wider positive impact across the communities it serves.

Lessons learned

David Perriman, NICE Treasurer and Project lead, said: “We encountered many procedure and legalities challenges along the way, but CARES and East Ayrshire Council helped enormously.”

David recommends that others undertaking similar projects “keep emails and documentation in good order in a separate folder on your computer as you will need to reference the same things many times over.”

David says “We learned a lot about renewable energy during the process. The support and help that we received from CARES, and from Gemma [Local Development Officer at Local Energy Scotland] in particular, was amazing.

“If any other community groups were considering such a project, we would say “Go for it – the long-term benefits to you and the environment are completely worth it.”