Growing interest in community biomass boiler heating

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The government seem increasingly interested in community energy schemes, and the Renewable Energy Association (REA) seem to clearly sense that too. Check out Gaynor Hartnoll’s excellent recent blog on the subject here.

The commercial RHI, which launched in 2011, rewards the owners of commercial, non-profit, charity and public sector biomass boiler installations for the heat that they generate and use.

Although a single biomass boiler serving a single domestic property is not currently included in the commercial RHI, district heating is. District heating involves heating more than one 'property' with a biomass boiler. This is usually defined by there being more than one council tax account and is eminently suitable for district heating, funded by shared ownership.

The sometimes high capital cost of installing a biomass boiler can be a barrier to some, but if like-minded neighbours combine their resources, biomass district heating can offer huge fuel cost savings of up to 80% against heating oil. RHI payments and fuel cost savings combined can mean that the capital cost of the biomass boiler heating system is paid back in four to five years. This gives the community which installed the system RHI payments for the remaining 14-15 years, which can mean free or very cheap heating for those involved.

Treco has been working in this sector for some time and we were involved in Scotland’s first community-owned biomass district heating scheme at St Bride’s Community Centre in Douglas. We have also managed a number of other installations, which we will be adding details about soon. 

The St Bride’s Community Centre case study is interesting as the 150kW biomass boiler heating system was an essential part of an extensive redevelopment. Heating is important to the comfort of visitors and community members when undertaking activities at the centre.

The Douglas Community Group undertook a redevelopment project to secure the future of St. Bride’s for the next 100 years. It was an extensive redevelopment to renovate and reconfigure their community centre, built in 1876, to better meet the community’s needs.

Until 16 years ago, the centre served as the local church hall and enjoyed the same stereotypical characteristics of many halls up and down the country. These included leaky roofs, inadequate heating systems and many types of rot and damp. That was until a team of enthusiastic volunteers got together. They decided to transform the rather bleak facility into a bright, welcoming community centre and secured over £1.4 million of investment, including government grants. The desire to reduce their dependency on oil as part of the project led them to look at renewable technologies to supply their heating needs.

St Brides had already accepted other forms of government funding, so were not eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive. They are in the process of repaying these grants as they would gain £16,951 per annum, every year for 20 years. 

We are starting to see more interest from communities for shared ownership of biomass boiler heating systems. If your community would like to explore further, do feel free to contact us or fill in your details below and we'll get back to you.

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