Sunday, 1 October 2017

How the Scottish Government could implement a 'subsidy free' scheme for community renewables


The Scottish Government (SG) should open discussions to establish a mechanism to enable ‘subsidy free’ community renewable  schemes. It is great news to see a decline in costs of offshore wind schemes, but as good as they are, they are not involving ordinary people. Community renewable schemes, using a definition given to me by Jon Halle of sharenergy are:

'Community renewable schemes are majority-owned and run by members of the public, including both people local to the scheme and supporters from further afield. They are open and democratically controlled, ensuring wide popular ownership of the energy system and maximising the sharing of both benefits and responsibility.'

This could apply to wind power, solar pv or micro-hydro. A 'subsidy free' scheme should be done on a pilot scheme basis to begin with.

Because of the decline in wind and solar power costs it seems likely that some renewable energy  projects in Scotland could be established assuming current levels of power prices that generators can receive on wholesale power markets. The projects would  certainly count as ‘subsidy free’. But they need long term assurances about income streams, something that the Scottish Government could provide at minimal risk to the public purse.

 A scheme could be established by the SG to set up a back-up loan facility to give ‘top-up’ payments for community renewable generators. This could  ensure that the generators received at least the income that they would do if wholesale power prices were at the current level of, say, £45 per MWh. Any loans paid would be paid back when power prices rose above the £45 per MWh level. This arrangement could be guaranteed for 20 years and could be enshrined in agreements issued by the SG to specific schemes. This would give schemes long term financial confidence that could allow them to raise money from banks and investors.
A pilot basis would consist of the scheme being restricted, for an initial proving phase, of no more than 100 MW of capacity.

A recent auction for community wind power projects in Germany saw the projects winning long term power purchase agreements for under £40 per MWh, and this is in a country with much lower windspeeds than are available in Scotland. See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-15/german-onshore-wind-power-costs-plummet-in-second-auction
The Clayhill solar pv scheme  has recently opened on a ‘subsidy free’ basis, and this is helped by being able to earn payments for electricity system services by co-locating the solar farm with batteries. See https://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/blogs/inside_clay_hill_the_uks_first_subsidy_free_solar_farm

ARUP has published an analysis of market possibilities for ‘subsidy-free’ wind power suggested that schemes costing less than £50-£55 per MWh (in 2012 prices) would count as ‘subsidy free’. file:///C:/Users/Toke/Downloads/Enabling%20Investment%20in%20Established%20Low%20Carbon%20Electricity%20Generation%20(2).pdf

While the Westminster Government is reluctant to offer sufficiently good financial conditions to promote the development of much onshore wind, and solar pv, Scotland is in a good position to continue take a lead in promoting community renewable. Although £45 per MWh is not a large amount of money, it does at least ensure that the scheme is ‘subsidy-free’ and means that the Scottish Government, which does not have the power to levy charges on electricity bills (unlike Westminster), will not suffer large financial losses.

There are some harbingers that suggest that average wholesale electricity prices will rise in future years. These prices are dominated by natural gas prices. The UK is able to access a declining proportion of its gas from cheap British sources. The balance cones increasingly from Dutch and Norwegian fields, yet both sets of supplies appear to have peaked already and there is every indication that they may decline. This will leave the UK increasingly dependent on supplies of LNG from Qatar and other sources which are much more expensive than those from the North Sea or The Netherlands.

Brief financial risk analysis

Let us assume that the scheme was limited to 100 MW in order to demonstrate test the concept, and that this 100 MW consisted of wind power projects.  Even if the long term income available from power markets  was £10 per MWh less than the level of £45 per MWh that the SG would guarantee paid to  wind power generators (eg £35 per MWh compared to £45 per MWh) then the annual ‘loss’ payable by the Government would be less than £3 million (under this pilot scheme). Recently the wholesale power price has been around the £45 per MWh level. Of course if the average income stream is higher than a ‘strike price’ of eg £45 per MWh then there would be a surplus of income.


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