September 16, 2021

First with the Alderney News

Planners agree off-grid home… but AEL objects

4 min read

Off-grid: Site poles show where the solar powered home will be built

Alderney’s first off grid home has been given the go-ahead by planners – despite objections from the local power company.

Alderney’s electricity supply is generated entirely from burning imported diesel.

Power bills are steep – currently 44p per unit.

States of Alderney Technical Services Officer Richard Phelan and his partner have been given the green light to build a house that will run on power generated from solar photovoltaic panels and stored in Tesla batteries.

Mr Phelan owns the parcel of land his home is being built on and he aspires to see the entire 13-plot development run off grid.

But the application however has highlighted a dichotomy for Alderney’s power supplier which in the past has spoken of aims to steer the island away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

But a limited customer base with fixed infrastructure costs andweak buying power due to the small volumes required means they need to maintain the current demand for power to make the system viable.

A trend for homes going off grid would upset that delicate balance.

Alderney’s electricity grid does not allow the ‘feed in’ system common on the mainland whereby excess power generated from photo voltaic panels can be sold back to the utility supplier.

A proposal to build a solar farm on the flanks of Fort Gronez has not been taken forward.

Richard Phelan applied to build his home on Clos Casquets and its power system will come from Little Green Energy company in Guernsey. Arriving with a 25 year warranty, the estimated payback takes 10 years, yielding the household 15 years of free electricity.

Mr Phelan said the Tesla batteries they planned to use would have storage capacity to meet power needs of the home for three days.

AEL board member Matthew Birmingham objected to the application. He said Alderney Building Law required essential services to be installed before the to the plot was developed.

A mains electricity cable runs down Rue de la Saline past the building plot but at the moment there is no substation to supply the development with electricity. The cost of that has to be met by the developer.

Mr Birmingham pointed out that most houses with photovoltaic panels were connected to the main grid as a back up.

He said:

‘The idea of being totally off grid is to be applauded.

‘But the underlying infrastructure for Clos Casquets is not complete.

‘The Land Use Plan says there should be complete services in place before development starts.

‘If there is a power shortage there is no way this house at the present moment can be put on the grid because services are not there. Then there’s a problem. A diesel generator in a residential area is not appropriate.’

The application also highlighted a significant gap in States policy, he said.

‘If a substantial number of individuals who can afford to pay for the new technology decide to go off grid this will lead to the cost of communal energy supply increasing and those costs being born by everyone else, many of those being those that can least afford it.

‘Whilst the power station upgrade has seen a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through greater engine efficiencies, AEL would prefer to see a whole island solution to the island’s energy supply issues.

‘But for this to happen there needs to be an Island energy policy for AEL to able to act upon to introduce greener energy supply.’

Mr Phelan told the committee that AEL was effectively discouraging green energy initiatives by Islanders.

He said:

‘AEL have no plans on integrating renewable energy in to their existing network. They are happy to continue with the importation of fossil and the burning of fossil fuels.

‘Rather than wanting to work with Islanders on the integration of renewables into their network, they attempt to cause issues. With all the evidence of climate change pointing to the burning of fossil fuels, this is entirely unacceptable.

‘Alderney should only be led by the local electricity company and not discouraged, Unfortunately, they are forcing individuals into purchasing renewable energy systems, in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

‘This may be the first domestic property entirely off-grid, but it won’t be the last.’

Acting Planning Officer Tissie Roberts reminded committee members that Fort Clonque, run as tourist accommodation by the Landmark Trust, was off grid, utilising fuel cells and solar panels attached to the officer quarters.

The application was approved subject to various conditions being applied concerning site access and hours of work there.

15 thoughts on “Planners agree off-grid home… but AEL objects

  1. What is the use of a Land Use Plan if the Planning committee ignore what is said. On the plan it said that no building should be built until ALL utilities were in place. Water is the only one. Why should the rest of the island probably have to pay more for their electricity because of one individual wanting to get his own way

    1. Dilla, can you identify what in the Land Use Plan has been ignored by the Committee? The application complies with the Planning Law; otherwise it would not have been passed. Ironically, the first house on the development passed at the time Matt Birmingham was Chairman of the BDCC, whom voted in favour of the application? Yet, in his new capacity as AEL Board Member, he made a representation on behalf of the Board, attempting to prevent a different application on the very same site, from being approved.

      Also, how will this mean the rest of the Island will ‘probably pay more’? The proposed property is not using electricity from AEL at the moment; therefore it will not reduce their existing customer portfolio. If what you’re trying to say is, the less properties AEL has to supply, the more expensive the electricity is going to be to Islanders, then surely they should be welcoming and accommodating the supply of electricity to an additional 13 properties? But this is clearly not the case, however that is the company’s choice and not ‘his’.

      If AEL had wanted to supply the development, then they should pay for the equipment required to do so. A petrol station would not ask there customers to pay for the petrol pumps to dispense the fuel – that cost is covered in the price of the fuel.
      Although a dispute with the Company over costs of a substation may have initiated research in to alternatives to a supply of electricity, it was not the predominant reason for choosing to go ‘off grid’. AEL are generating electricity by the means of burning fossil fuels, this should not be the only choice islanders have as their supply of electricity. It’s not Islanders fault that AEL has not been led by the Board in a way that permits the integration of renewables in to their network. You should aim your disappointment at them, not ‘him’.

      Perhaps you could arrange a meeting with the AEL Board? Although, this would have to be a virtual meeting; as the Managing Director lives in the UK, the Station Manager lives is Australia and their legal adviser lives in Jersey. I’m sure Matt Birmingham would be happy to discuss it with you, if you can ever get hold of him.

  2. I agree with you Mr Chapman. On one hand AEL are saying that it shouldn’t be permitted as the property will not be using their electric and this will affect the price of electric for other islanders – yet on the other hand, they are refusing to pay for the infrastructure to supply the development. It they want extra customers, they need to place the infrastructure in order to supply them with electricity, otherwise stay out of it!
    I heard the company were basically blackmailing the owner and that they have refused to supply evidence that a substation is even required. Also, that the proposed substation is to upgrade their network, which is not only for this development. I believe AEL threatened the owner and demanded a sum which was not fixed or reasonable and was told if he didn’t accept, there would be no electric supply for the houses on the site. It’s pretty disgusting behaviour in my opinion. AEL should be ashamed of themselves. They have made a rod for their own back on this one. Good luck to the land owner and well done for not bowing to their demands!

  3. Living on Alderney my entire life and being from a local family that goes back generations, it’s sad to see that out local electricity company is acting in this way! They have been so good over many years, but recently we’ve had so many power cuts, on-going noise, issues with the new engines at the power station and now this. Other jurisdictions allow solar panels. Why not here? And why have they become so threatening. Recently, I have heard of quite a few customers that have been threatened. Why?? Is it because hardly any of the board live here anymore and don’t have the islanders best interest at heart??? We need local residents in charge and not people who have no ties to the Island. It’s a disgrace!

  4. I can’t believe in this day and age, with all the evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is contributing to climate change, that AEL are making representations at a planning meeting to try and stop an individual from using solar panels on their house!! Are they for real!! It’s crazy that they even thought it was a good idea to publicly raise their concerns!! Who’s idea was it to make a representation and how damaging is this to islands representation!! They should be ashamed of themselves!! 🙁

  5. AEL and the SoA have been offered a totally free of charge renewable energy system to serve the whole Island twice in the last four years that would reduce the price of electricity to around half of the tariff of today. The 1.15 mega Watt power plant would be available 24 hours a day 7/365 with no financial input from the People of or States of Alderney. The energy supplied is totally green with no pollutants, noise or emissions of any sort. There will be no requirement for converter sheds on greenbelt sites.
    The investment into the Island from the Company is around £2 million and will enable the Island to be the first state on earth to be totally free from fossil fuels (good for tourism). The Company would only be paid for power supplied at £0.16 pence per kWh to recoup its investment, that price fixed for 5 years. Should Guernsey take on this system (which as a 17% shareholder in AEL they should) the price to AEL would reduce further to £0.10 pence per kWh. The machinery, guaranteed for 30 years, would be gifted to the People of Alderney after 15 years effectively offering free electricity to the People (except for local infrastructure costs) for the following 15 years. If approved by the General Services Committee earlier this year, the generator would have been in operation by mid summer 2021.
    Matt Birmingham was fully behind this project (2016) and suggested that fort Albert be the ideal place to site the generator. The then planning officer John Young disagreed and threw out the application (joined-up deputy/civil servant thinking) . The management of AEL liked the idea, except that now AEL appear to have flip-flopped on that and appear to have a better deal with Atlantis despite no commitment from Atlantis, a project still many years away, to reduce the price of electricity to us the consumer.
    It is probably time to remind states members and AEL who owns the company. Yes 5% of AEL shares are in private hands, but the other 95% are owned by the People. If you the People want clean cheap zero pollution power, than you must be allowed to progress that idea either by a centralised generation system or privately. Press your states members for answers and make renewable energy a commitment for incoming states members at the November elections. It is time to be rid of Diesel generators and to drag Alderney into the 21st century.
    Finally it would also allow the AEL and Alderney post ‘zero emission’ vans to become genuinely zero emission for the first time.

  6. I asked Alderney Electrics a few months back about PV’s for a house, as I was wanting to build a new house on the Island. I was told, in a slightly hostile email reply from James Lancaster that I wasn’t allowed to use P.V’s on Alderney. I wrote another email yesterday asking if AEL’s policy has changed and he said that you are allowed to be entirely off grid. Well, that’s not what he said to me in July! Why is everywhere else is permitted to use renewables, but on Alderney you can’t? It seems so draconian in this day and age. Alderney Electric really needs to look at this! It’s not a good look for the Island at all and has certainly discouraged us from moving there. Please sort it out ASAP! You can’t carry on burning fossil fuels forever. GET WITH THE TIMES!! 

  7. My original comment was not intended to be in any way connected to AEL. It was to do with the Land Use Plan & the fact that the planning committees appear to ignore what is in this expensive report along with the objections from neighbours. The first house should not have been given planning permission as none of the utilities were on site. The fact that this permission was granted it has made a president for further development.The same thing is likely to occur in an area not far from this particular site. My apologies for bringing AEL into this which was not intended

  8. What the hell are AEL playing at here? Do they not want new customers? I remember listening to James Lancaster on Quay FM several month ago and he was complaining that we didn’t consume enough electric and that the more we consumed, the less the price of electric would be for islanders. Why then, would they not want to sell electric to this development? It’s certainly opened up a can of worms for AEL and has potentially put the entire Island at risk. If other houses decide to go off-grid, it’s going to be detrimental to the every consumer.

    I’m not criticising the person who has chosen to go off-grid. It’s their choice and very noble of them to do so. But, I am wondering that if the supply to the development had of been provided by AEL, whether they would have made the same choice?

  9. I’m sorry Dilla, but you’re wrong. All the services are in and have been signed off by the States Engineer at the time of completion. Please get your facts right.

    There is also a live cable that runs down the centre of the development that was intended for the supply of electric to each house.

    I’m not going to go too much in to it, but I can tell you that the owner made a considerable offer to AEL as a contribution to a substation. AEL attempted to bully him in to an unfixed, overinflated amount which far exceeded what was required for the development. It was extremely unfair. AEL have now spent more on legal fees which run in to tens of thousands of pounds trying to force the owner in to paying. The amount they have spent is most likely more than the cost of building the proposed substation. By choosing to attempt to bully the owner, they have now potentially lost 13 new customers and evoked the possibility of other houses on the island choosing the same route.

    I know the owner personally and I can tell you he is honest, he has always the islands best interests at heart and would never want to cause any harm. He has tried absolutely everything in his power to avoid this mess. The Board has refused to meet with him to discuss a way forward and have acted in an authoritarian manner in which they thought gave the owner no other choice but to concede to their demands. He has effectively been held to ransom on this by AEL attempting to extract unreasonable costs from him without showing any evidence that a substation is required. They have misled him to believe the proposed substation was for his development only (it’s not), won’t give him the specification of the proposed substation when they’re asking him to pay for it, won’t give him a fixed quotation and have received a parcel of land from him for virtually nothing. They have acted entirely unreasonably and now they have caused themselves a big problem in my opinion.

  10. Powerwalls are the way ahead. For those that can’t afford theTesla battery pack system there are far cheaper DIY versions – see Jehu Garcia on YouTube. Within a development there is nothing to stop a communal powerwall as, no doubt, some properties will be vacant at certain times of year (provided other occupants want to go solar) Its long overdue for AY to green up its credentials – so many pilot schemes could be trialled which would give Alderney another feather in its cap. But I hear the screams of “Its only Alderney!” as if it its a foregone conclusion that nothing of any fore-ward thinking substance can be achieved. To that I reply “Its because it is Alderney and anything should be possible.”

  11. Why didn’t they just factor in the cost of building the substation in to the cost of the electricity they sell? It would have amounted to a few pence divided up amongst their customers. Seems ridiculous to me. Fair play to the owner for finding an alternative! They collusively attempted to draw costs from the owner through threats and it has backfire on a large scale! Oh dear!

  12. Can anyone please tell me, who are the Board of Directors on AEL?? They need to held accountable for these decisions!!

  13. Have you deleted my comment alluding to AY being controlled and fleeced by the ‘greater good’ that is the Masonic Morons? If so, great piece of unbiased journalism!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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