Solar panels installation at Thornford Primary School, Dorset.

Nature of Project
Thornford CE VA Primary School is a “green flag” eco school and has been involved with the Eco Schools programme since 2007. The school has a dedicated eco committee who carry out, amongst other things, yearly environmental assessments of the school including the building and grounds. From these assessments action plans are drawn up on ways to save electricity, raise pupil, staff and carer awareness and ways of improving sustainability within the school.

A number of green initiatives have been implemented since 2007 including; recycling paper, cardboard, tin cans, ink cartridges, clothing, planting hedgerows, creating wildlife areas, installation of an outdoor classroom and raising a greater understanding of the wildlife upon whom share school facilities.

Pupils, staff and governors at Thornford CE VA Primary School are continually looking for ways of improving sustainability within the school community. It was a natural progression to undertake a large scale project such as Project PV. It was felt that the installation of PV panels would not only help the school to reduce its carbon emissions and save money on electricity but it would also act as a useful teaching tool for the school and the wider community.

A grant-funded feasibility study was commissioned by Encraft. The company’s service extended to advising on grants, installers and planning approval, which the school found invaluable.

The school found the planning process relatively straightforward and planning permission was granted swiftly. Part of the application was to trim the neighbouring walnut tree allowing more sunlight onto the panels, but unfortunately this was rejected due to a tree preservation order. After consultation with the installers it was decided it would not significantly impact the efficiency of the panels.

EcoFirst, a local installation company, was commissioned to install the panels during the October half-term 2010. An electricity monitor was placed in the school hall so all pupils, staff, governors, carers and visitors can see first hand the electricity being produced and the carbon emissions being saved. It is early days for Project PV but to date 280 kWh of electricity has been produced. It is anticipated that the panels will reduce the school’s annual electricity bill by around £850.

The school found the grant process challenging and time consuming with many hours spent filling in grant applications and waiting delayed decisions. The school was grateful to receive grants of £8,615 from LCBP2 and £4,500 from Dorset County Council, however this left a shortfall of approximately £5,000 which needed to be found. The timeframe from first notification of the LCBP2 grant to implementation and completion of the project was also challenging in that it did not give enough time to find the shortfall of monies. After a number of unsuccessful grant applications to utilities, the school had no option but to make up the shortfall itself to ensure Project PV went ahead.

Community Involvement
A questionnaire was sent to all 358 households in Thornford to gauge their level of support /feeling towards Project PV. 71 households returned their questionnaire. 96% supported the idea of solar panels whilst 69% felt it was important that Thornford community attempted to reduce its carbon emissions. 80% said if the school could show significant savings on energy and cash from PV panels, it would inspire them to see how they could save energy at home.

This story was provided by Sustainable Dorset, the website for DA21: