' the Woodlouse: November 2011


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Are free solar panel offers any good?

There's nothing exciting to report about the bungalow plans; our planning application has been given a reference number by the district council but not yet allocated a case officer.  If we get any real news I'll report it here...

So here's a relevant if slightly tangential blog about the merits or otherwise of the increasing number of free solar panel offers - companies offering to install photovoltaic solar panels for free on your roof, in theory giving you the benefit of free electricity.  I keep coming across these and a few people have asked me about them.  Sparked by the latest request for comment (specifically about these people: A Shade Greener) I found myself giving a rambling answer and thought I'd try and edit it into more coherent form to post here.
The free solar companies finance the panels they fit by using the Feed-in-Tariff/FIT (for more about the FIT and planned changes to it please see here: Solar Rush; or for more general FIT info this site is useful - http://www.fitariffs.co.uk/FITs/).  The FIT is in two parts: payment for all electricity produced by your solar panels - even that which you use yourself, and a bonus payment for electricity you don't use that gets exported to the grid.

On top of that there should be a saving on your electricity bill when you use electricity from the panels rather than importing it from the grid.

My understanding is that the free panel companies install and own the panels and receive both parts of the FIT. You get any saving from using power generated on your roof.  This can be worthwhile but it depends on how you manage your electricity use.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Planning application is in!

Wahoo - planning application is officially submitted!  Before it gets looked at properly by the planning officers it needs to be validated - checked to see if we have submitted everything required in exactly the right format.  I have tried really hard to make sure we have done everything correctly, but I've found it hard to know in advance exactly what all the information specifications are.  I highly recommend anyone applying for planning permission to start filling in the forms online (at www.planningportal.gov.uk) ahead of time - partly because it's time consuming, and partly because other requirements are made apparent as you go.  For example, we need to cut down one non-native tree which has been planted far too close to the existing bungalow: it's not enough to just mark this on the plans with a note that it needs to be removed, you have to label it and any other affected trees T1, T2 etc, and list this reference and the reference number of the plan that shows it in the right box on the planning application forms...

Other information about the required format of plans is more straightforwardly available, to be fair.  It's just important to make sure you follow the guidelines strictly (it's hard to know how accurate they are but there are plenty of stories on the web of applications failing to be validated due to minor technicalities).

But anyway, it's in, fingers crossed/touch wood it'll be validated, then we wait to see what the planners think.  They said at my last meeting with them that they'd probably need to make a site visit, so I guess that's the next thing in line.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Solar Rush

Our plans for planning application are virtually complete and now only lack details of solar photovoltaic/electric (PV) panels, and solar thermal (hot-water) panels on the south-southwest facing rear roof.  We will definitely install solar thermal panels to provide around 60% of our annual hot-water needs.  This is easier to plan as the panels are a fairly standard size.  We hope to also install PV panels, but this depends on the amount that can fit on the roof and the potential output of the system balanced against the cost.  As the sizing of PV panels is much less standard and the calculation of output and which panels to use in what configuration around roof-windows is much more complex, we need this information from solar installers.  Two local firms have agreed to provide a quote including all the relevant information, enabling us to reach a decision and - if we decide to go ahead - to include accurate details of solar installation on our plans for planning permission.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Of bats and bureacracy, Part 2

Brief summary of Part 1: the bat man checked for bats and found bat poo indicative of one bat, but couldn't rule out the possibility of there being more bats hidden between the felt and the tiles of the roof.  He then wrote us a bat plan which received the necessary approval from the bat people at Dorset County Council, once we'd resolved a few glitches (they initially failed to read the plans properly).

The bat plan (Dorset Bat Mitigation Plan/DBMP) sets out an approach to roof works that will minimise any potential disruption to bats.  Although the plan describes "a bat roost of low conservation significance", we have to act as though there may be more bats roosting in the space between the roofing felt and the concrete roof-tiles, just in case.  Had we known earlier about the need for a Bat Survey we could have carried out emergence surveys - checking at dusk to see how many bats emerge from the roof - and based the Bat Plan on more specific information.  Sadly, it was already October by the time we knew a survey was needed and at this time of year the bats aren't active in that way.  I'm not sure what they are doing, but it isn't flying in and out of roof roosts.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Of bats and bureaucracy, part 1

The last week or so has been a flurry of fairly stressful activity.  I haven't felt so stressed about the project at any point so far.  Thankfully as a result we now have nearly everything in place to finally submit our planning application.  I hoped to have done that by now, and as I'll explain one of the reasons for the recent activity also makes it more urgent than ever to submit the plans as soon as possible.  Urgh.

I went to see the planning officer again with the virtually complete plans (previously I'd only shown them my own computer mock-ups of possible designs, rather than the actual accurate plans).  The planning officer didn't really have much to add this time, having already commented on the basic principles of the project (and broadly approved - see Elevated Greenery), but she did add that we'd need a Bat Survey before we could submit our application.  Despite my best efforts to find out what additional information we needed to accompany the application this annoyingly hadn't shown up in any lists on the Dorset For You website or the Planning Portal site.  The Dorset website is so convoluted that I can't guarantee it's not on there somewhere in the depths but certainly not anywhere obvious.  The Planning Portal ("the UK Government's online planning and building regulations resource") does have a lot of information, but when it comes to local information requirements it just says that pull-down lists will show what you need when actually submitting a planning application online.  That's not much use in advance.