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Solar rooftop for schools - what do you need to know?

London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has stated that he will make fitting solar panels on schools one of the priorities in the new phase of his public sector energy retrofit programme, RE:FIT. So what do schools need to know about the installation of rooftop solar PV?

Why install rooftop solar PV?

There are many reasons why a school might wish to install solar panels on its roof.  Such an installation will not only exhibit to pupils the value of renewable energy technology, but could also:

  • reduce electricity bills;
  • reduce carbon emissions; and
  • provide the school with an income stream through FiTs

What are FiTs?

The Feed-in-tariff (FiT) scheme is intended to encourage the uptake of small scale renewable and low-carbon technologies. FiTs are available for installations of up to 5MW and the owner of such a system receives payments based on each kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity produced. Payments are made over a 20-year period for the electricity generated (the generation tariff, which is a fixed payment for every kWh generated) and also for any electricity exported back to the national grid (the export tariff, which is a guaranteed minimum payment for every kWh).

Tariff payment rates vary and are adjusted annually. Generally speaking, the highest rate tariff is available for buildings with an EPC rating of band D or above. However, schools benefit from a carve-out which means that they are eligible for the higher-rate tariff if the school building has an EPC rating of band G or above. 

The current FiT rates are available on the Ofgem website.

Do we need to buy and install the solar panels?

Assuming that the school (or local education authority) owns the school building, it could either buy the solar panels itself and arrange for them to be installed (ownership of the panels staying with the school) or lease the roofspace to a solar PV provider (who would install, operate and own the panels).

Buying the solar panels

If the school chooses to do this, it is likely that it will be able to obtain FiT payments.

The school's main aim in having a solar installation may be to reduce its electricity costs (i.e. because, unlike domestic occupiers, the school's energy consumption will be highest during the day, when the solar panels are producing electricity), rather than to produce an income stream from FiTs. However, if the electricity generated by the solar panels will be greater than that used by the school, FiTs may be relevant. Much will depend on the size of the solar installation, how energy efficient the school building is and what other measures are in place for reducing energy consumption.

Grant of a lease to a solar PV provider

In this scenario, the solar PV provider (as tenant) will usually meet the cost of installing the solar panels and will retain the FiT payments arising from any electricity generated. The school will, however, have a right to use the electricity generated by the solar panels either free or charge or at a discounted rate. One advantage to the school of taking this route is that the solar PV provider will be responsible for the cost and operation of the panels. 

What consents and approvals do we need to obtain?

Planning permission

Permitted Development Rights, which allow certain building works to be carried out without having to obtain a planning permission, are available for rooftop solar installations of up to 1MW. There are, however, various steps that need to be followed before solar panels can be installed using Permitted Development Rights. Please see our update for further information. In addition, if the school is a listed building, you will still need to obtain listed building consent for the works, and, if the school is located within a conservation area, there are additional criteria/constraints.

What type of school is it?

Other consents/permissions may be required, depending upon the type of school involved. For example, where a school wishes to enter into a lease with a solar PV provider:

  • academy schools will need the consent of the Secretary of State; and
  • if a school has charitable status, consents relating to that status may be required. 

How can TLT help you?

TLT has a wealth of experience in dealing with rooftop solar PV projects, including different funding structures and community projects, as well as advising clients on their obligations under EU procurement rules.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones

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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