THE ENERGY TOOLKIT

10. MAP YOUR PARISH

As we have discussed elsewhere in this toolkit, since the removal of the FiIT (Feed in Tariff) for solar PV sites to stand any chance of success they should have sufficient usage in the summer months of on-site electricity usage for substantial parts of the day to make use of the power generated.

The starting point is to identify suitable public, commercial, industrial and agricultural buildings that have significant, unshaded, south-facing roof elevations (or at the least very flat elevations).

We found the most useful mapping software for this work is a combination of Google Earth (slightly better than Google Maps) and Parish Online (the most powerful and commonly used Parish level mapping software). If your council does not have this, we recommend purchasing an annual subscription as it is very powerful for all sorts of local council interests. A very useful tool is the MAGIV database. This provides a wealth of information on land classification and use.

Parish Online gives a high-definition granular depiction of buildings in the local area. It has the particularly useful feature of being able to outline, annotate, and store exact areas of suitable roofing (even only the south-facing half), at the same time it calculates the area involved.

Ideally, we would recommend the use of a two-screen computer set up to avoid the need to keep toggling between the two mapping software apps. However, with patience a single screen set up will give the same results. This is what Parish Online looks like: 

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A two-screen computer set up, which is really useful for mapping as it shows buildings and layers with half (south-facing) roofs annotated with the area calculated. 

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It is highly recommended that before using Parish Online, interested individuals should watch the excellent online training videos given to Wiltshire ALC, here and here.

Here are some simple steps to use Parish Online to detail potential sites:

  1. Open Parish Online

  2. Set up new ‘Solar site’ layer by going to side bar ‘Parish Layers’, then from the dropdown menu select ‘Create’; ‘New Layer’. Name the new layer, then set ‘Geometry’ to ‘Polygon’ and select ‘Finish’. 

  3. Using your mouse, move and zoom to the building to be identified. Click ‘Tools’ and choose ‘Annotate’ from the dropdown menu. From the side bar, choose ‘New Object’, then select the polygon icon, and click ‘Use Label’ which allows the naming of the building. Add the building name. 

  4. Now start to outline the area of the building roof by clicking on the corners of the outline, finishing by double clicking on the start point, then ‘Finish’. 

  5. By clicking on an annotated area, then ‘Annotation Layer’, the area can be seen in square metres. 

  6. Continue until all buildings have been identified.
     

Using Parish Online, we made a short list of community buildings in the village to host rooftop PV panels, followed by a list of possible industrial/agricultural buildings. A desktop survey was undertaken which identified some 3000m2 and 8000m2respectively of south-facing roofs. We then had very positive initial discussions with both community building representatives and local landowners on potential sites within the parish.

The review of the Stage 1 RCEF application process made us realise that if we were to be successful, we would need some professional assistance to review the sites we had located to ensure that they would be suitable for an RCEF bid. Funding was then sought to pay for this consultancy work, and we were successful in gaining support from the Parish Council and the Borough Council.

The consultant that we engaged to assist us with identifying viable sites made it clear that most of the community buildings would not be viable, even without viewing the electricity bills to check their power usage. The reasons for this were: the roofs were too small and/or they did not use enough electricity wither during the day, or over the summer months. However, as all the key village contacts were in support of the proposal, we decided to collect the electricity usage anyway, just in case there was a way we could make it a viable proposal at a future date or if the owners of the community buildings wished to pursue their own scheme. However, many schools use community solar PV. As long as the size of the solar PV is matched to the load, then schools can make excellent sites for PV installations. 

 

ENGAGING WITH LOCAL FARMERS, LANDOWNERS, AND INDUSTRIAL/BUSINESSES

We then went through the same exercised with local landowners, farmers, and businesses, looking at possible locations for solar PV. We asked them to provide electricity bills for the last year, by month and preferably showing HH (half hourly) data. This is to ensure that there is consistent usage both throughout the day (unlike a dairy, for example, which uses energy in the early morning and then in the afternoon, but nothing else), as well as all through the summer months. With COVID this provided a little tricky, as some places had not been used much and so we had to ask for a previous year for comparison. Also, many of the places did not have HH data, and didn’t understand what it was, leading to some confusion. 

 

OTHER ENERGY SOURCES

 

We did not limit ourselves to solar PV. We wanted to look at all possibilities, to see that would work best for us. So, we looked at a small solar farm (Overton already has a fairly large 4MW one, privately owned), and also discussed a small anaerobic digester (considered too risky/too complicated at this stage), and also wind. We found that wind was well-supported in our community engagement activities, although there can be resistance by some. Hydroelectric power was also considered. The River Test runs through Overton, and a couple of the mills have installed hydro generators already. The Test may make a good site for power generation. A small (30kW) hydro generator will produce as much electricity as a 300kW solar generator – and the generation profile will be far more suitable, because generation from hydro is more consistent across the 24-hour day, and across the year. We decided to start with a bundle of solar PV, and look at a potential solar farm and wind power for future applications. 

 

OUR ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY FOR POTENTIAL SITES

  • We firstly identified a list of building owners and tenants (and you need permission and agreement from both, even it it’s a long-term lease). 

  • We then emailed a letter explaining what we were investigating and followed it up with a phone call. As we had already built some relationships with most of them, this was easier. 

  • We then met with each of the owners and tenants to explain, in person, how this might work. This involved attending some committee meetings, personal meetings (outside, due to COIVD), to gain support. 

  •  We asked for their electricity bills and a letter of support. Everyone was very supportive. The only potential issues we could see at that time were that some roofs were old and needed replacing, and one or two might be asbestos. 

  • We lined up our site visits over 2-3 days, and allowed an hour for each, with slightly longer for the bigger sites.

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LEARNING POINT:

ENGAGING POTENTIAL SITES

  • Time: Leave plenty of time to organise this, so that the meetings can happen sequentially over a day, or 2 days depending on how many potentially viable options you have. 

  • COVID issues: It can be difficult to get some people to meet – mainly because of COVID and business pressures. You may have to leave out unresponsive sites, or sites who needed more time to go through their head offices. With some, it was hard to find anyone to talk to or get an email address or phone number, such as a BT substation, and the Southern Water treatment plant. 

  • Prepare a good ‘pitch’ to communicate and sell the concept of community energy to potential sites. Our consultant was really good at doing this, but it’s something you can do yourself if you gain enough knowledge to maintain credibility. 

  • It can be hard to get bills out of potential sites – you may have to sign a disclaimer. It may take a few meetings and conversations to build up trust for people to share this information. 

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