THE ENERGY TOOLKIT

12. THE RCEF BID PROCESS

RCEF APPLICATION PROCESS

  • At the time of writing (January 2021) there are funds available until October 2021. There are specific dates to get bids in by We submitted our bid in November 2020. 

  • The key is to work out how much you can do yourselves, advertise for skills and experience if you don’t have them within the existing tea. 

  • It might be helpful to use a consultant to ensure that the sires that you use for your submission are viable and that you have a credible project to put forward to ensure that it is successful. 

 

DO YOU NEED A CONSULTANT?

 

We did not believe that our team had enough expertise to put a successful RCEF bid together, Luckily, we were able to acquire some funding to employ a consultant to help develop and cost a project plan to submit to RCEF. The plan was approved by the Parish Council. 

LEARNING POINT:

TIPS ON CHOOSING A CONSULTANT

  • Plan ahead: We found that many of our contacts were so busy, that it was hard to find someone to assist us within our timescale. 

  • Ask around your networks for recommendations. 

  • Agree a clear brief with your consultant. 

  • Familiarise yourself with their experience and the projects they have worked on. Have they previously submitted successful applications to RCEF?

  • Agree a day rate and plan for how long each element of the contract with the consultant will take. Site visits can be time consuming – we used 2 days for this. 

  • Agree realistic timelines. 

  • Have a central point of contact to manage and work with the consultant, to ensure the project is kept on track. 

We were confused that we needed a consultant to help us make a viable short list for our RCEF bid, when the bid was for a feasibility study. It seemed a bit cart before horse. However, we then realised that not all bids are successful. Funding will only be given for projects that are (a) likely to be viable, and (b) have community support. We were able to do some of the ground work ourselves, and we hope that by sharing our experience it makes it possible for other parishes to either do this without consultant help (if they have enough local expertise), or to say just a day or two of a consultant’s time for specific areas of the proposal. Other options are that you team up with other parishes and share costs and remember that you speak to the Energy Hub, and Community Energy South to assist you. Each team, each parish, and each project are different, so we can only provide you with information about how we did it.

PROS OF USING A CONSULTANT

  • Their expertise and experience with similar projects.

  • They can carry out financial modelling for potential sites. 

  • They have credibility with owners, any may be more successful with getting some sire owners on board. 

  • If you are successful in your bid, they are already up to speed on the project. 

  • Your bid is more likely to be successful.

  • Your bid may be unsuccessful due to your lack of knowledge, and this might scupper your chances of a successful project, and also damages the credibility and reputation of your group. 

CONS OF USING A CONSULTANT

  • Expense – it can be around £450-650 for a day’s rate excluding VAT (although parish councils can claim this back).

You may require some expert assistance at some stage in your project. There are several free resources that you can use to assist you, and you may be able to find some pro-bono services or people prepared to work at reduced rates. There are also private consultants who specialise in renewable technologies who can provide you with their expertise, as well as their current industry knowledge.

Choose someone who has experience of similar projects and a proven track record. Of course, if you already have some of these skills within your group that is helpful. Although we felt we had a lot of experience between us, we didn’t feel we had enough specific experience to identify viable sites and submit a strong RCEF bid. We have learnt a huge amount from our consultant and are now in a much stronger position to proceed with our project. If possible, choose a consultant that has experience of successful RCEF applications. It’s worth asking around for recommendations – e.g. local solar projects, other local groups, and find someone who has been personally recommended.

If you’re looking to develop a RCEF application, talk to the Energy Hub first before engaging with a consultant and complete their pre-application questionnaire. You don’t need to be fair progressed to do this and it is meant to be a snapshot of your current capability. This helps the Energy Hub provide initial feedback on whether a project may be viable or it the scope is too broad, or whether your group would benefit from additional consultancy support or peer support from an existing community energy group.

New resources (such as this) are being developed with Community Energy England to boost the ability of new groups to do this initial analysis themselves. 

 

KEEPING THE PARISH COUNCIL INFORMED

 

It is key to keep the parish council informed at each stage (assuming they are putting the bid in on your behalf). We recommend speaking at the monthly parish meeting, and ideally emailing a short summary beforehand to allow people time to digest and understand the project. It is crucial that the parish council is on board and understands and approves of what is going on as, in our case, they were the body responsible for receiving the funding in the first instance. 

LEARNING POINT:

EXPLAINING THE RCEF APPLICATION PROCESS EFFECTIVELY

  • Ensure you have explained what community energy and the post-FiT model are. 

  • It can be easy to unintentionally confuse members of the parish council with the complexity of this process. 

  • Realise and explain upfront that the process is ‘cart before the horse’, i.e. that we need to employ a consultant to help us identify viable sites for the application that are suitable for a post-FIT model. 

  • Explain what your team is doing, and how the consultant will help. You can do a lot of the legwork yourselves, and get owners and tenants on board, but you may need some additional expertise. 

  • Simple, written communications, circulated prior to the parish council meeting, are more effective than verbal updates, especially on Zoom. This gives people time to digest and formulate their questions beforehand. 

  • Layperson’s language: Try to avoid jargon and give a simple explanation of terms (such as post-FIT or solar PV). 

RCEF APPLICATION PROCESS

 

Firstly, read the guidance notes and have a look through the application form. The link here will show you what you need to consider and what information is required. 

 

Funding can be sought for things like:

  • Technical feasibility

  • Design and procurement

  • Financial modelling

  • Community engagement

  • Planning permission process (where applicable)

  • Grid applications and network operator liaison

  • Fundraising advice and support

  • Help with the aspects of lease and power purchase agreement process and liaison with landowners to obtain their agreement to proceed

  • Advice on how to structure the community energy business

  • Support in setting up the asset management and operations and maintenance of the built assets

  • Project management

  • Cost of materials and relevant expenses for the provision of the above

 

You may be confident that your group can deliver some of these, but others will require professional assistance. 

 

LEGAL ENTITY 

 

The parish council (as a legal entity) has made the application to RCEF on behalf of Sustainable Overton. However, it is intended to set up one of the following organisational models to run the Overton Community Energy project:

  • Community Interest Company (CIC)

  • Co-operative

  • Community Benefit Society (Bencom)

  • Local Community Groups in partnership with a Local Authority 

  • Registered Social Landlords

  • Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO)

  • Development Trust

  • Pre-commencement society

  • Amateur sports association

Each type of organisation has pros and cons, and required detailed research to decide which is best for your project – see here (or www.gov.uk) for more information. 

 

INVITATION TO TENDER – LEARNING

 

RCEF projects are essentially professional feasibility studies and you will need to engage an experienced consultant to undertake this work. You will need a minimum of 3 tenders from consultants to carry out the Stage 1 feasibility study. The ITT document contains a mixture of specific project requirements and the mandatory requirements of the RCEF grant scheme. You also need to decide how you are going to evaluate the tenders and choose one. This is the ITT document that we drew up (click here). 

LEARNING POINT:

INVITATION TO TENDER 

  • Make sure your brief is thorough and easy to follow. 

  • Be aware that if you use a consultant to assist with the application to RCEF, and they wish to tender for the feasibility study work, they cannot be involved in the tender process. 

  • Give people enough time and information: A consultant who has already worked with you and met your landowners will have an advantage, so it is fair to try to ensure all other tenderers receive all the information they require to put a bid in. They may need more time to familiarise themselves with the project, so it is better to give them enough time. Unfortunately, we only had a week which was not long enough. The more time that you give people to prepare a tender, the better. 

  • You will need to show your evaluation process to both the parish council as well as RCEF. 

  • It’s worth sharing this evaluation document with the parish council to keep them informed.

Other things you might want quoted for

If you want to apply for funds for other aspects of the feasibility study as part of the RCEF application, e.g. for setting up a community organisation, a project manager or surveyor etc, you will need 3 quotes for each of these so remember to factor this into your timeline. 

 

Letters of approval for being included in the study

You will need a letter of intent/support from each owner or tenant of the buildings or land that is to be part of the project. 

LEARNING POINT:

  • At the beginning of the process, explain to the owner/tenant that they will need to make a commitment to the project in writing as part of the application process. 

  • It’s worth providing a template letter that people can use/amend for ease. 

  • They can email this on their headed paper, or just give you a paper copy. 

RCEF pre-application

You can submit a pre-application to RCEF, summarising your planned project, to get some feedback on whether it is acceptable. This can save some time. The Energy Hub were really helpful about this, and we got feedback speedily. 

 

Getting the bid together:

  • Fill out as much of the application as you can, so that you know what is missing. 

  • List out everything you need and include it within your plan – also check against your timeline. 

  • Delegate tasks. 

  • Raise any queries with the Energy Hub if you need clarification. 

LEARNING POINT:

  • Follow your timeline to make sure that you are on track. 

  • Take control of your own application. We ended up relying too heavily on our consultant which resulted in chasing around for information at the last-minute. This could have been avoided. 

  • All work to be included as part of the application requires three quotes – so remember to factor that in. 

  • Make sure that you have your letters of approval from landowners. 

  • There were things that we put into the application such as: a list of team members with a short relevant biography. This also took time for people to submit and approve. 

  • Remember to think about the legal entity that you might set up, as this needs to be stated on the RCEF form. 

We have just heard that we have been successful in being awarded our stage 1 RCEF funding.

 

CONCLUSION

 

We hope that this toolkit has been of use. We have endeavoured to include as much information about our learning as we could with useful resources, to help you start your own community energy journeys. We will add to the toolkit as we progress, hopefully, through to Stage 2, and onto the finished project. We would love to hear your experiences and learning too, so that we can start to make a tangible different to community energy in Basingstoke & Deane, and Hampshire as a whole. 

Thank you for reading this. 

 

With best wishes

 

The SOEG team

 

Alison, Martin, Claire, Tanya, Steven, Laura, Tom, Graeme, Tony, and Sarah.  

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