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Planning solar PV projects: a guide for local authorities

Ground-mounted solar PV is an attractive option for local authorities; potentially offering a new revenue stream from an existing land asset. Successful delivery of a project can also act as a spring board to other energy projects and help meet carbon reduction targets.

If you are a local authority and you are considering a ground mounted solar PV scheme, what are the key issues you need to consider to ensure you find the right partner? Before embarking on delivery of a solar farm scheme, there are some key steps a local authority should undertake:  

Preparation

Finding the right site

  • Think carefully about how you select the site.
  • Confirm who owns the site. Will site assembly be required? 
  • Check whether the site is accessible from the public highway and what ongoing access rights you will need. 
  • If the land already has tenants, review the terms of their lease and engage with them in good time to facilitate a vacant site for the contractor. 

Developing the Outline Business Case (OBC) 

  • Consider and define the outcomes for the project.
  • Assess the level of (and any proposed regression to) the Feed in Tariff. Does this impact on financial viability and/or project timetable?
  • Review the financial model and consider any assumptions that have been made. Check to see if the assumptions have been tested through soft market testing and/or with specialist advisors.

Engaging with the local community

  • Hold meetings to address local concerns and explain what will be involved and how the local community will benefit from the solar PV project.   

Funding the project 

  • Think carefully about who will fund the project. Will it be the local authority (eg existing reserves or prudential borrowing) or the contractor?

Obtaining planning permission

  • Ensure planning permission is obtained before work commences on site.
  • Check to see if there are any residual judicial review risks.
  • Think about the impact of delays.

Engaging with the Distribution Network Operator (DNO)

  • Engage with your DNO early on in the project.
  • Make sure you understand requirements for connections.
  • Consider how the DNO estimate will impact your financial model and OBC assumptions.

Plan your client function

  • Assess what your client function will look like during the procurement phase, once contracts have been signed and in the delivery/operational phase.  
  • Anticipate an increase in freedom of information requests.

Procurement 

  • Consider whether an OJEU Contract Notice is required.
  • Scope out the OJEU Contact Notice and make sure it covers both primary and any ancillary requirements.

Identify your evaluation criteria 

  • Clearly scope out your objectives and goals for the project and make sure these are mapped against your procurement documents and evaluation criteria.  
  • Think about whether you will retain discretion under certain scenarios during the evaluation process or do you intend only to rely on the evaluation criteria?

Plan your procurement documents 

  • Make sure that your documents are easy to read and navigate especially if you are seeking to deliver on an accelerated procurement timetable.  
  • Review your documents to ensure that your requirements are clearly stated. This may save you time answering clarification questions.
  • Set out the Authority's Technical Requirements (ATRs) in sufficient detail to make your key requirements clear. You may not have the opportunity for detailed discussion about your ATRs after appointment of a contractor. 

Review your contract requirements

  • Consider whether your requirements need a bespoke contract or can be satisfied by way of a standard form document.  
  • If you decide to have separate contracts for the installation and maintenance obligations, think about how to manage the interface risk between the two contracts. Would a combined contract be more appropriate?

Undertaking assessment and moderation 

  • For each phase of any procurement timetable, make sure you have identified the evaluation team members for each discipline (eg financial, commercial, technical and legal).
  • Consider what internal and external resources may be required.
  • Prepare evaluation guidance for all evaluators.
  • Ensure you have allotted sufficient time for clarification questions to be asked.

Selecting your bidder and signing contracts

  • Plan the process for formally notifying the bidders of the outcome of the procurement.
  • Agree a timetable to contract signature and make sure this details the steps required to achieve an efficient close.
  • If the contract is being awarded to an overseas company or one in a different geographic location, allocate sufficient time for signatories to sign of all the primary documents and any associated ancillary documents. Do you require a legal opinion on any overseas companies?

Installation and operation

  • Set out clear guidelines to show how the client function will monitor the contractor's performance and foster a sense of partnership. 
  • Think about how the client function will able to identify and discharge its obligations under the contract.  
  • Reduce teething problems (eg access issues, inclement weather or damaged materials) by developing a genuine partnership with the contractor and working with them to find solutions.
  • Develop a process for monitoring progress of the project and identifying what has worked well and any issues. 
  • Provide the contractor with regular feedback.
  • Notify residents about the project include details of how quickly the installation was completed, how much electricity was generated and how the project has helped the local area. 

About TLT

TLT has been immersed in the energy & renewables sector for over 15 years. We have advised on over 200 solar projects representing 2GW of solar projects whether in the pipeline, contracted or built. In addition Patrick Sweeney advised the Borough of Telford and Wrekin on their 4MW solar farm at Wheat Leasowes. 

To find out more about our experience delivering solar projects click here.

If you would like to discuss any solar PV projects you may be considering please contact Patrick Sweeney or TLT's Head of Energy & Renewables, Maria Connolly on +44 (0)333 006 0109 or maria.connolly@TLTsolicitors.com.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com

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