Harrold Renewable Energy (HARE)

IMPORTANT UPDATE No.4 – August 2015

HARE is sad to report that the planning application for Harrold Community Solar Farm has been refused.

Refusal was solely on the grounds of the quality of the agricultural land being Grade 3a. It was disappointing that the planning officers felt that there was no compelling reason for permission on such land despite (i) it being a community solar farm (it needs therefore to be local and National Planning Policy gives weight to this); (ii) the fact that solar farms across the whole country are expected to use only a quarter of one percent of agricultural land to meet our national targets; and (iii) the dire need to generate more renewable energy as quickly as possible.

The quality of debate at the committee meeting was similarly poor with only one member appearing to have a reasonable grasp of the issues.

So be it.

And finally ... alternative opportunities to progress renewable energy generation and community benefit are being looked at by HARE and thank you to Debadge Design for providing a very good value web site facility which we commend to any other community energy groups - click on their logo on this page for contact details, and feel free to use any text from this site.

Bye for now.

IMPORTANT UPDATE No.3 – MAY 2015

Thank you to everyone who voted yes in the Parish Poll on 30th April. Those who voted (40% of the electorate) were more or less evenly divided (20% Yes, 20% No). This is a great result for a significant village based development and adds weight to HARE's survey findings, the public exhibition responses and other survey work that have showed significant overall majorities in support of Harrold Community Solar Farm.

If you haven't yet been able to write to the Borough Council Planners in support of Harrold Community Solar Farm there is still time (up until around mid-June) and there is value in doing so. You can use the Word document here (add your address, the date, your name and signature and then print it and send it to the Council address in the letter) or you can use the letter's title (Support for Town Farm Solar Farm, 15/00444/MAF), any or all of its text, together with your name and address, in an email to planning@bedford.gov.uk.

Please do so (and ask your friends to) as soon as you can, before you forget!
Thanks again.

IMPORTANT UPDATE No.2 – APRIL 2015

For:

  • Clean and green energy
  • £1m for Harrold good causes
  • A new 30 acre wildflower meadow
  • New hedgerows and footpath
  • and much more...

Please get there and Vote Yes ✔ in the Parish Poll, 4pm till 9pm, Thursday, 30th April, at the United Reformed Church (URC).

And if you haven't done so already there's still time to write to the Borough Council to support the planning application – see Important Update No.1 below.

IMPORTANT UPDATE No.1 – MARCH 2015

To All Harrold Residents and Other Interested Parties

The planning application for Harrold Community Solar Farm has been submitted. Now is the time to show your support for it.

The following are the main reasons why 6 to 1 of villagers are in favour of the project:

  • It does Harrold's bit to tackle the dangers of Climate Change by generating locally more or less the energy Harrold uses;
  • It will provide a massive £1m for Harrold good causes;
  • It will be locally owned and managed by Harrold residents;
  • It will be a great wildlife site, particularly for birds, with new hedgerows and trees and most of the field involved turned into a wild flower meadow;
  • It will provide a good opportunity for local people to invest, with any extra funding required to be provided by a green investment bank.

And just to correct some of the false assertions made by the few who oppose it:

  • The income for Harrold good causes equates to nearly £600 per person not £1;
  • It will reduce flood risk because of its design features;
  • It will not be visible for miles around, but will be well screened, with low profile panels, in an undulating landscape with field patterns preserved;
  • The local people working on the project are doing it all unpaid, for the benefit of Harrold;
  • It will not affect house prices. There is no evidence for solar farms doing so. It is the most popular renewable energy generating method (80% of people in national surveys say so).
  • It will not set a precedent for infill development. It is well away from Harrold and only a temporary permission for a very specific purpose.
  • It will be the size of about 17 football pitches not 30 and will be less than 1% of Harrold's overall area.
  • Community share offers tend to raise the money needed in half the time we have available.

If you care about Harrold (and the Earth as a whole) please email a brief letter of support to planning@bedford.gov.uk quoting the planning application number 15/00444/MAF, mentioning Proposed Harrold Solar Farm and stating your name and address.

And please do this by the 7th April if possible as that is the deadline (or a bit later if you can't quite make that).

Thank you.

PS. Here are some useful planning application documents, perhaps easier to look at here than on the Borough Council web site:

Overview

A group of Harrold residents have formed a Community Benefit Society (HARE - Harrold Renewable Energy) to work with the solar farm developer (3C Energy) and the Bath and West Community Energy support organisation (Bath and West Community Energy) to help the proposed solar farm north of Harrold happen as a Community Solar Farm. This is because:

1. Lots of renewable energy generated. The Solar Farm will generate enough electricity for around 1,400 houses without any dangerous climate change effects. Harrold will be doing its bit for the country and the world. The parish has a little over 700 houses so the renewable energy will make up for other local home energy use effects too (from burning gas, oil etc.).

2. Big financial contributions to good, local, community causes. The solar farm should generate well over a million pounds for local causes, chosen by local people.

3. A locally owned Solar Farm run by local people. It will be owned and run by local people who care about Harrold, not sold to a faceless corporate driven exclusively by profit.

4. Big biodiversity gains, especially for birdlife. HARE is looking to get the site designed so that it will help declining bird species recover, accommodate small mammals, amphibians and reptiles, include a pond and provide an opportunity for schools and community involvement, working with local wildlife groups eg. the Bedfordshire Wildlife Trust and RSPB.

5. A good, reliable, financial return for local investors. Local people will be able to buy shares that are expected to reliably earn about 6% interest in part because of fixed Feed in Tariff payments set by Government and in part from export (to the grid) income. There can be tax benefits too.

The project is well on its way but, while there is a lot on this web site already, we will add stuff to it regularly so save it as a 'favourite' and keep in touch. And if you have a question not answered already (check the Q&A page) send it to us by clicking here:

Contact Us

Help the planning application. Sign up as a supporter:



What will it be like?

The Harrold Community Solar Farm that we are looking to create with 3C Energy will consist of rows of solar panels on frames to hold them off the ground and at the best angle for the sun. The rows will have grass strips, a few metres wide, between them. The panels will be about 1.9m high at their higher edge and 0.9m high at their lower edge and so will sit well below the height of the hedges around the site.

There will be three significant new hedgerows planted, other hedgerow improvements, a wildflower meadow across the site, a pond, bird and bat boxes and hibernation places so that biodiversity assets will be vastly better than before.

A significant new footpath in a wide space between old and new hedgerows adjacent to Dungee Road will provide a much needed link between two existing footpaths.

There will be a 1.9m high fence around the site, a bit like a deer fence with wooden posts and wire between, to minimise risks of damage. There will also be a few (three) poles and cable along the southern edge of the field (like existing rural power and telephone cables) to feed the power into the National Grid locally.

These photos give an idea of what some of this will look like:

HARE Example 1 HARE Example 2
HARE Example 3 HARE Example 4

Contact Us

Help the planning application. Sign up as a supporter:



Where and how visible will it be?

The Harrold Community Solar Farm will be about a kilometre north of Harrold on a field by a gate on the Dungee Road from Harrold to Hinwick. It will be well screened from the main part of Harrold village. Houses up Dungee Road can see the field at the moment but a major new hedgerow to be planted on the southern side of the solar farm will make it well screened from there too.

There will also be a major new hedgerow alongside Dungee Road making it well screened from the road, though with occasional views, and a third new hedgerow will be planted across the middle of the site to further break up any views of the site.

Main visibility will therefore be to walkers using the footpaths near to and around it.

Click the first two images to see full size:

Location Map 1 Location Map 2
Location Map 3 Location Map 4

To give you a better idea of where the Harrold Community Solar Farm site is in relation to Harrold we have captured on film (with commentary!) a cycle trip to it. Click the video to view:

Contact Us

Help the planning application. Sign up as a supporter:



When might it happen?

Here is the timeline we are hoping to work to:

  • February 2015 - Submit Planning Application
  • June 2015 - Receive Planning Permission
  • Summer 2015 - Share Issue
  • Autumn 2015 - Start Construction
  • Late Autumn 2015 - Complete Construction
  • Late Autumn 2015 - Commissioning and Start of Generation etc.

Contact Us

Help the planning application. Sign up as a supporter:



Why?

The most important reasons are what we have said on our Home page:

  1. Lots of renewable energy generated. The Solar Farm will generate enough electricity for around 1,400 houses without any dangerous climate change effects. Harrold will be doing its bit for the country and the world. The parish has a little over 700 houses so the renewable energy will make up for other local home energy use effects too (from burning gas, oil etc.).
  2. Big financial contributions to good, local, community causes. It should generate well over a million pounds for local causes, chosen by local people. Note that this is much much more than the £1 per Harrold resident per year suggested by the few opponents to the Community Solar Farm who can't seem to do their sums.
  3. A locally owned Solar Farm run by local people. It will be owned and run by local people who care about Harrold, not sold to a faceless corporate driven exclusively by profit.
  4. Big biodiversity gains, especially for birdlife. The site is being designed so that almost the whole area will be a wild flower meadow alongside three new hedgerows. It will help declining bird species recover, accommodate small mammals, amphibians and reptiles, include a pond and provide an opportunity for schools and community involvement, working with local wildlife groups eg the Bedfordshire Wildlife Trust and RSPB.
  5. A good, reliable, financial return for local investors. Local people will be able to buy shares that are expected to reliably earn about 6% to 7% interest in part because of fixed Feed in Tariff payments set by Government and in part from export (to the grid) income. There can be tax benefits too.

However, another important reason why we are happy with the idea is:

  • It will only be a temporary permission and will be removed and reused or recycled after 25 years with the land returned to normal farming (unless Harrold wants it to continue).

Contact Us

Help the planning application. Sign up as a supporter:



Who are we?

HARE is a Community Benefit Society with 6 directors, 5 who are unpaid and residents of Harrold and one director advisor whose advice and other work is extensive and crucial to us and will be paid for. At the moment those involved are:

  • Mark Payne, High Street
  • Graham Russell, Roman Paddock
  • Roger Johnson, Odell Road
  • Paul Vann, Brook Lane
  • John Sunderland, Hall Close
  • Andrew Sharp, High Street
  • John Lancaster, Bath and West Community Energy (another Community Benefit Society!)

And there are a number of other members and supporters.

Finally, to find out more about our partners, 3C Energy and Bath and West Community Energy, or to get in touch with our website developer, Debadge Design (based in Podington) or website sponsor SellBuyLocal (Bedford), you can visit their web sites by clicking on the images on the right.

Contact Us

Help the planning application. Sign up as a supporter:



How will it happen?

This is a complicated bit, but is essentially as follows:

  • A Community Benefit Society (HARE) has been set up with (local) Directors and a set of rules which ensure the solar farm will remain community owned (Bath and West Community Energy have helped us with this).
  • HARE contracts with the solar farm developer (3C Energy), who have borne all the costs/risk of getting planning permission, to buy the solar farm off them (Bath and West Community Energy will help us raise the funds for this).
  • HARE (with Bath and West Community Energy) markets the project and issues shares to raise the money to pay specialist contractors to design, build and maintain the project. Shareholders become members of HARE and can stand and be elected as directors.
  • HARE works with Harrold to set up a charity with local trustees to decide how the income for local causes is distributed.
  • HARE receives the income from the farm and passes it to the charity.
  • Bath and West Community Energy manages the future selling and buying of shares in the solar farm (and the paying of interest on shares).

Contact Us

Help the planning application. Sign up as a supporter:



Questions and Answers

Click on each question below to view the appropriate answer:

Shouldn't we keep all agricultural land for growing food?

The UK can meet its 2020 target for solar energy production using only 0.29% of the country's agricultural land. So such farms do not cause a food production problem.

Won't investment in the solar farm be risky?

All investments have some risk. Harrold Community Solar Farm and been closely scrutinised already and will have further expert scrutiny. Such solar farms are generally regarded as solid investments and banks with careful, long term investment approaches invest in them (and get good returns).

Won't it adversely affect house prices?

There is no evidence for this. It is more likely that Harrold's reputation as a great place to live will grow with lots of well supported things happening for all its residents.

Why do we need even more solar farms round here?

The UK needs much more renewable energy generation. There are some other solar farms with permission in this general area (at Podington, Odell, Clapham and Pertenhall) and some other proposals at Chelveston and Irchester, but these are really quite far apart and can be seen to serve their local areas although with much less direct local benefit than planned for Harrold. The Harrold proposal is relatively small in comparison with some of these, uses just 2% of Harrold's land area, and is a good size relative to Harrold's local use of energy.

Aren't the Harrold Directors just in it for the money?

Absolutely not! They are unpaid and all their efforts are being given voluntarily and free for the benefit of Harrold.

Will wildlife be affected?

There will be some disturbance to wildlife during construction but the new hedgerows, wildflower and grass areas will be a plus for wildlife. Wiltshire Wildlife Trust for example is developing solar farms on its own land.

Will there be an increased risk of flooding for Harrold?

This will be carefully considered through the planning application process but essentially rain will fall on the ground either directly in the wide gaps between the rows of solar panels or off the edge of the panels and will filter into the ground essentially as it does at present. Some extra grassy ditches may however be constructed as an extra precautionary measure.

How do we know that the profits will definitely go to community causes and what happens if someone else takes over? Can they change what happens to the money?

An extract from our "Rules" below shows that after ensuring the solvency of the society then profits must go to social or community purposes (which the rules also state elsewhere means exclusively to Harrold good causes) and ahead of anything else.

HARROLD RENEWABLE ENERGY LIMITED
(Incorporated under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014)
Extracts from rules:
APPLICATION OF PROFITS
98.Any profits shall be applied---in such manner as may be decided at the AGM:-
(a) To a general reserve for the continuation and development of the Society.
(b) To making payment for social or community purposes within the community served by the Society.
ASSET LOCK
99 The Society must not use or deal with its assets except:
(a) Where the use or dealing is directly or indirectly for a purpose that is for the benefit of the community.
(b) Where the Society is to be dissolved, to transfer its assets to:
(i) a community interest company.
(ii) a charity

A full set of the rules is available to inspect on request.

How will biodiversity gains be delivered?

We've already highlighted in our main reasons for doing the project (see the Why? page) that HARE is looking to get the site designed so that it will help declining bird species recover, accommodate small mammals, amphibians and reptiles and include a pond.

We will also be looking for additional planting (hedges and trees) to provide habitat variety for wildlife and further screening and breaking of views of the site particularly from Dungee Road and the public footpath to the north east. Other things we plan are meadow plant sowing in accordance with RSPB guidance (see an example below), a maintenance plan following biodiversity management principles, nesting and bat boxes in surrounding trees and 'hibernacula' of logs and stones.

This is all in particular to help locally present, though mostly declining, species such as skylarks, yellowhammers, barn owls and buzzards in a balanced and undisturbed ecosystem with the potential to attract new threatened farmland species such as turtle doves and corn buntings. We will also be looking to create high quality viewing areas, hides and information boards and, in effect, an 'Outdoor Classroom' area.

Will there be some kind of caveat on the planning application so that, if it succeeds but HARE don't raise the money through the share issue, the application won't then just default to the developer to progress as a commercial scheme.

HARE, and in particular its scheme advisers, are very confident of raising the funding necessary as it will be open to a wide range of known to be interested investors once local people have been given priority. As an ultimate fallback we are making sure that the planning application includes all the good things we would want in the scheme.

Will the proposed scheme pave the way for other, nearby schemes, whether under HARE'S ownership or that of others.

Any decision to try to extend the current proposal could only be taken by HARE (who are against it). Any other scheme nearby would of course be subject to planning permission, securing available capacity in the electricity distribution network, agreement from the landowner and financial modelling to assess commercial viability as the Feed in Tariff rate drops.

3CE genuinely has no plans nor intentions regardless of spare grid feed in capacity - which the current proposal uses up. Even if somehow capacity was released (buying it would be very expensive), 3CE would still not be interested in another nearby site (and it would be highly unlikely that others would be either) because another site would be likely to have cumulative impact and inter-visibility issues (being able to see one site from the other) and would find planning approval very difficult.

How big is the proposed site?

The solar farm we're proposing would be a 32-acre site – half a field (go to the 'Where' section of this site for maps and a video showing the exact location). The site would generate 5MW of output almost equivalent to Harrold's energy use (electricity and heating) – it's a Harrold sized scheme.

What proportion of the solar farm would be owned by the developer?

None. The development would be 100% owned by HARE (the solar farm) and the farmer (the land), ie it's 100% locally owned. This is not a partnership with a developer. It's a locally-owned and managed development.

How much will the site cost?

The whole development will cost around £5m. We expect to raise some of this sum from a share issue, giving local people the opportunity to invest in the solar farm. HARE will borrow the balance from financial institutions.

How visible is the site?

The answer of course depends on where you're standing or walking. From Harrold, there are around a dozen houses that will be able to see part of the solar farm. Have a look at the video in the 'Where' section – this shows the location of the site and which houses will have any kind of outlook onto the site. The site will also be visible from the Harrold-Podington road and from some of the footpaths and bridleways to the north of Harrold.

Again, look at the video for a clear understanding of the scale and visibility of the site. It's also worth noting that there will be much more hedging around the site than there already is. Whilst this won't completely obscure the site from view, it will certainly make the site very discreet.

How much do you have to pay in to invest?

£500 is the minimum share. There will be more information on the share issue in the New Year.

Who benefits from the power?

The power will go into the National Grid so it would be wrong to suggest that the power comes straight into Harrold although in some respects it will flow locally. However, the site will deliver an amount of energy each year close to what is used in Harrold each year so Harrold would be doing its bit to deliver a greener future. As we have said elsewhere, it is a Harrold sized scheme.

How established is HARE?

This is new territory for the Harrold folk who have formed HARE. However, we have enlisted consultancy help from Bath & West Community Energy who have considerable experience of developing community-owned energy schemes. BWCE has a great track record of working with local communities – see their website for more details (click on their logo at the top of this page) – and delivering the kinds of benefits that HARE want to bring to Harrold.

How much money will the solar farm deliver to Harrold?

We conservatively estimate that HARE will generate £1M for Harrold over the 25-year life of the solar farm, with an estimate of £40,000 in the first year. The money would be given to a new charitable trust, with the trustees deciding how the money is used. There will be a clause to ensure that the money is spent in Harrold, to benefit the people of Harrold.

How certain are you that the solar farm will raise this kind of money?

Our financial projections have very strong foundations. We've looked at the costs and revenues of other solar farm schemes, we've taken advice from BWCE and so, whilst we cannot be 100% certain that the numbers will come in exactly as we project, we can be very confident that this solar farm will deliver £1M to Harrold over the 25 years. Indeed, there are good reasons to be optimistic that the sum would be considerably higher than this.

Does HARE have paid directors/employees?

No. We are all local volunteers, working for the good of Harrold.

What precautions will be taken to protect against vandalism?

We'll have CCTV and there will be a deer fence inside the hedgerows around the site (ie not visible from the outside). There will not be any lighting or alarms and monitoring will be done remotely.

What will the traffic problems in the village be in the construction stage?

Access to the site will be via the field entrance on the road between Harrold and Podington, not through the village.

Why can't the solar farm be somewhere completely screened from view?

It's largely to do with how you get the energy created by the solar panels onto the national grid. The chosen field is close to the relevant connection. It's the proximity that makes the site economically viable. If we were to focus our efforts on another site, the costs of getting the energy from the panels onto the network would offset any benefits. There is also good road access (not through the village) for construction and maintenance.

Will there be a glare from the panels?

No, they're non-reflective.

What happens in 25 year's time?

The panels and frames will be removed and the land returned to agricultural use.

Will HARE own the field?

No, the land will be leased from the landowner.

How long will the construction stage take?

The solar farm will take about 12 weeks to construct. There will be around 100 HGV deliveries over the whole period with 8 to 10 a day for the most intensive period, delivering the panels to the site via the Harrold-Podington road entrance, and not much more than a handful a week for the rest of the construction period. Construction will be undertaken by Conergy, a Milton Keynes-based business.

What will be the height of the screening hedge?

Initial planting of the southern hedge will include semi mature trees and the hedge around these will be several (3+) metres high as will the other hedges, new and existing, around the site. They will therefore be much higher than the deer fence and solar panels.

With what certainty will the Feed in Tariff rise with inflation?

From the OfGEM web site: 'The Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme is a government programme designed to promote the uptake of a range of small-scale renewable and low-carbon electricity generation technologies Generation and export tariff rates are index-linked which means that they will increase or decrease with inflation.'

Is there not a risk to children playing / trespassing on the site from the 33kV output?

The site and its equipment will be as secure as any electricity installation eg those in the middle of Harrold.

What is the amount expected from local investors, how big a shortfall in investment is expected and how will it be filled?

Various scenarios are possible. It is envisaged that perhaps around 20% WILL COME FROM Harrold and close by, 30% from further afield in Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire and 50% from national investors.

Who would be the contractor?

The contractor for construction and maintenance would be Conergy, based in Milton Keynes.

Has HARE considered developers other than 3CE?

No. 3CE will have the rights to the site and HARE has to buy it off them. Conergy come as part of the package too.

What guarantees does HARE have regarding the quality of the installation?

The contractor (Conergy) will supply, install and maintain the farm at costs agreed in advance and/or insured for and performance is essentially guaranteed subject only to the weather. Guarantees are therefore as good as they get.

Can we see the business plan in order to assess the viability of HARE's projection of a £1M community fund over 25 years?

Our business plan is still evolving and significant detail will be available at the time of the share issue next year. The following summarises the key financial features of the evolving business plan:

  • Initial costs (incl. fees and contingency) - £5.5m
  • Income from members/investors - £5.5m
  • Feed-in tariff income over 20 years - £7.5m
  • Energy export income over 25 years - £10.5m
  • Ongoing fees (owner fees, insurance, O&M) - £4.5m
  • Member (investor) repayments - £11.5m
  • Payments to Harrold Trust £1.5m

Contact Us

Help the planning application. Sign up as a supporter: