Part one of this blog, published last week, can be read here.
These mistakes and how to avoid making them will be discussed in detail at the Solar Media training events, more detail on which can be found here. The dates and times of these courses are below, and Solar Power Portal readers can receive an exclusive 10% discount by using the code ‘SPP10’ at checkout.
- Developing a Solar Farm by a Local Authority on Its Own Land
28th April 2021 (09:00 – 13:30 GMT)
- Developing Buildings Based Solar PV by a Local Authority on Its Own Buildings and Assets 1
2th May 2021 (09:00 – 13:30 GMT)
- Declaring a Climate Emergency for a Local Authority and Developing a Robust Action Plan
28th May 2021 (09:00 – 13:30 GMT)
Inadequate procurement processes
No article on local authority development would be complete without a mention of procurement! Most authorities have a procurement team and a good handle on the legal and procedural provisions.
But if the team has insufficient internal resource or capability, this will present a big problem. Procurement is central to one of the most important parts of the process: the appointment of a contractor to design, build and operate the asset.
In my experience, procurement officers need to be involved from the start and be a key part of the internal client-side team. They take some time to be comfortable with a new area such as this and will need time to think about it. Also, procurement timetables will need to be harmonised within the overall project timeline.
Insufficient client-side resources
This plays into the next point, which is to have the right client-side resource available within the authority. Everyone employed in a council already has a day job and more than likely a full load of work to do. It is not good practice to simply load such projects on to already overworked officers who have no prior experience.
The client-side team needs to be just that – a team, not an individual no matter how enthusiastic or capable. On the team need to be legal, finance, procurement, estates / property, energy, planning, communications and so on. Each officer has to play their part in smoothing the path of the project.
It is also important that those in management understand the nature of the tasks involved and the amount of work that will need to be undertaken.
Inadequate financial modelling
Financial models for solar farms are specialist documents. In order to prepare such a document, a good handle has to be obtained on a variety of costs and income involved. The more accurate those costs are, the better the model will be.
It is not possible to ‘look up on the internet’ the current industry EPC costs for solar farms and battery storage. Such information is just not available outside of the actual industry. The person preparing the model needs to know about performance ratios, availability, testing regimes, prices for electricity traded on the electricity markets and calculations for inflation.
It is better for the in-house finance team to procure some help on this, so that whatever form of model they use in that authority can be populated with the right data. That way, they still have their usual financial or business case model but it is as accurate as possible.
Inadequate communications strategies
Members of a local authority are elected to take decisions on behalf of the constituents who elected them. But it is wise to ensure that you engage with the public as you go along.
The reason for this is simple. If there is public opposition to a scheme it is remarkable how quickly the members start reconsidering their appetite for the scheme and may cancel it completely. It is public money that is being spent and you want the public to support it.
This should not be a problem. After all, most people support work in relation to the climate emergency and solar PV has the highest approval rate of any renewable energy technology. Still, this cannot be taken for granted.
So a good quality comms plan is essential but this is often overlooked until it is too late.
Care with specialist areas
There are lots of these, but my example is former landfill sites. The concept of a solar farm on a former corporation tip is a brilliant one: turn a liability into an asset and build on an area of land that no other building can occupy. But there are complications – and complications usually mean more time.
Landfill sites usually have planning consents with conditions. They are subject to an Environmental Permit from the Environment Agency. They have restoration plans that have to be amended. Normal piling systems to support the panels cannot be used, as they have a ‘cap’ fitted over the deposited waste. They may well be still occupied by the waste contractor who is completing restoration work, or simply monitoring subsidence, leachate and gas extraction.
All of these issues need to be carefully considered and the relevant parties involved to come to a sensible time frame under which such sites can be developed. Similarly for county farms, private wire arrangements or floating solar.
None of these comments should be taken negatively. I am not suggesting that solar farm developments are impossible for local authorities to undertake or are doomed to fail. Far from it. But in order to deliver a project on time and on budget in accordance with a solid business case, these issues need to be addressed and the best time is at the start.
Everyone just wants to get going but preparation is the key, with local government and industry knowledge available and a sensible time frame. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but who needs hindsight if the issues can be pointed out in advance? Lets hope local authority solar has a great year!
More details on Solar Power Portal publisher Solar Media’s training events can be found here, including a complete timetable. SPP readers can once again receive an exclusive 10% discount on training events using the code ‘SPP10’ at checkout.