Our blog posts to date have provided a background on what community renewable energy is, what the challenges are and how it can benefit your community. This post offers a practical guide on how to get things started.
Community Aim, Desire and End GoalFor any renewable energy project , the first steps are to:
- Consider the end goal. For most communities the generation asset isn’t the end goal, but a facilitator to deliver change within the local area. Income streams from projects can be used to enable various forms of diversification. Some of these can be, but not limited to, the development and construction of local infrastructure improvements; new affordable homes; scholarship funds; and many more.
- Do some background research and review local policy. Some towns and municipalities already have bespoke renewable energy policies, these can typically be found online alongside Municipal Development Plans, and alike. The internet can provide source of near endless background reading, our community focused blog posts have been prepared to provide some abbreviated examples.
- Engage with Community stakeholders. Start with friends, colleagues and family. Is there a wider appeal/desire for a project within the community? If yes, then continue to discuss with prominent local figures, and the local administration/council. Ultimately, a community project is only likely to proceed if most of the local community see the benefit and need of a project proceeding.
- Talk to people with relevant expertise. Once you have an established end goal and have a gauge on community desires, it’s time to engage a consultant to assist with forming a project around the communities shared vision.
Site IdentificationOptimum project sighting is dependent on several factors. Geographical location, local climate and terrain can favor some renewable sources over others. Resource availability, either solar irradiance and wind speeds are usually good indicators when first deciding which renewable energy source would yield the best returns.
Key constraintsBelow are several key constraints that must be assessed as part of the permitting process, prior to proceeding with project development. Most of the listed items can be mitigated, or managed in the development process, but in specific circumstances they can be red-flag issues that dictate that a project is no longer viable.
Grid Access :Most commercial scale renewable generation assets require a grid connection, which allows the project to export energy to the local grid network. Where possible, projects should be located in close proximity to local grid infrastructure, which has the capacity to export any generation from the proposed project. Sites that are a long distance from the existing grid require the installation of new independent powerlines at significant expense, and situations where the existing grid network does not have capacity for new generation regularly triggers costly new network upgrades. These additional costs can be critical to project viability. For distribution scale (local supply) connections Distribution Network Operators (such as ATCO, and Fortis), in consultation with Transmission Network Operators (ATCO and Altalink) need to undertake connection studies to understand the impacts and viability of potential connections. Off-grid developments supplying an on-site demand are also possible but will require more detailed consideration and electrical design.
Endangered species and habitats:Depending on your jurisdiction, laws are likely to have been put in place to preserve local habitats and wildlife. Protected species regularly require buffers between their nesting grounds/habitat and a prospective project, to minimise disturbance to them. If protected species are present on development land, the required setbacks can significantly alter your site layout and potentially block development entirely. Within Alberta, Canada there are Wind and Solar Directives which define both protected species and habitats. Both wetlands and native grasslands are protected under the Albertan Wind and Solar Directives. As part of the permitting process environmental studies must be undertaken and submitted to Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP), only once AEP have signed off on a proposed project location is it possible to summit your permitting.
Archaeology and Paleontology:Many areas of Alberta and Canada have the potential to contain valuable historic resources. The need to preserve and study historic resources has is stipulated within regulations (the Historical Resources Act, within Alberta). In areas where historic resources are likely, or are known to exist, developments are regularly required to submit a Historic Resources Impact Assessment (HIRA). Subject to findings of the HIRA additional stipulations may be placed on the development.
Financing and Development Risk:All projects need to be financed, this is true also for Community developments. Community developments (typically) have a common constraint in that are required to be of very low risk to be acceptable. Communities can adopt various structured approaches to development, and access a number of different funding streams that can assist with reducing risk, and/or providing the upfront capital to assist with getting a development off the ground. Some of the support mechanisms for community projects will be covered in a later blog.
PermittingAfter the feasibility studies are undertaken, and the decision is taken to proceed, the local permitting process needs to be completed before construction of the renewable energy project can begin. The requirements can vary greatly between different jurisdictions and permitting authorities but for renewable energy projects generally it is necessary to assess the following as part of the permitting process:
- Noise Impacts
- Visual Impacts
- Shadow Flicker (Wind only)
- Glint and Glare (Solar only)
- Environmental Impacts
- Archaeology and Paleontology
- Hydrology and Hydrogeology