We moved to the village 15 months ago to a 17C house, having lived a modern 1950’s house where we had already made changes to reduce our carbon footprint, i.e. fitted low wattage light bulbs, fitted double glazing, had cavity wall insulation added, re-insulated the loft and 4 years ago added solar thermal panels to the roof to heat the water.

Our house in Hooky was not carbon efficient except it had a new condensing boiler. We decided from the outset there were projects we needed to do to improve efficiency, such as fit low wattage lights where possible, replace a large open fire with a wood burning stove in our inglenook and re-insulate the attic to current standards. We wanted to put up solar panels, but as we planned to add a small extension of a utility room we held back on other projects until we knew the financial implications. Having joined the Hook Norton Low Carbon Group and attended a couple of meetings I soon became aware that these projects were going to be easier with their help. They supplied me with information regarding appropriate companies to contact for my attic insulation, and choosing companies to fit solar panels was going to be easier than it was previously as the Group had already identified and vetted several companies who were, not only technically competent but were also prepared to give residents of Hook Norton a good discount on any projects they carried out.

A further concern was addressed regarding planning permission. I was aware that living in a conservation area would come with its own difficulties, especially as we live on the main street. Firstly the Planning Office suggested I wait until after April 2010 to see what the new Government Guidelines were regarding Solar Panels, and then HNLC group agreed to take up our case as a test case. This summer the Planning Officer visited Hooky with one of the HNLC Group to look at the position of our property and a few other properties with a view of clarifying their position about planning permission. This cooperation was most helpful in identifying and taking on board everyone’s views, and it was agreed that HNLC Group could give notice to the Planning Officer of groups of proposed projects where we do not now have to have Planning Permission but need to notify the Planning Office of our solar power projects (the arrangements are different for Listed Properties).

We would not have afforded to put in both Solar Thermal Panels and Solar PV panels (to generate electricity) at this time due to our other building project, but the availability of an interest free loan was most helpful, and this along with the Government’s notification about FIT (Feed In Tariffs) coming into being in the Spring of 2010 influenced our decision to go ahead with both the Solar Thermal and Solar PV projects.

We immediately set about obtaining quotes from the recommended companies and applying for an interest free loan. Contacting and dealing with the supplier was simple and smooth, as they were already doing work in the village, and were able to ‘pop round’ several times to take details and change plans. The loan application was simple and dealt with in a timely manner. The deposit monies were forwarded when we needed it and the final monies were paid within a few days of request and submission of final invoices. The term of payback was very flexible.

The work was carried out at the beginning of November and took about a week overall, only hampered by the late arrival on site of the scaffolding,supplied by a different company, and the slow delivery of the new tank. I have to say the team who fitted both sets of panels were helpful, tidy, considerate and technically very capable. We are now the proud owners of Solar PV panels on our south facing garage roof with the converter and all metering etc in the garage and easily accessible and the Solar Thermal panels are on our south facing house roof with pipe work and equipment in the loft along with a monitor in the airing cupboard in a bedroom by the tank. The installers came around the following week to check that all was working well.

So far our electricity bills have been reduced by 30% over the past year, by the way we are careful about turning off lights etc. and we have needed 25% less oil. We shall be quite excited when we get our first ‘Pay back for electricity generated’, however, with the current snow covered panels this quarter will not be very lucrative! I have to say that we are lucky in Hook Norton to have the easy availability of technical knowledge and interest free loans. The culture in Hook Norton seems quite positive and ‘switched on’ regarding environmental issues and the need to individually make savings to reduce our CO2 emissions. We all know we should address some of these issues but can easily ignore them, but when a community actively encourages its members in such an easy to access way it really helps us achieve our goals.

Angel Powell