What are ROCS?

ROCS are credits earned by a renewable energy generator, in this case a PV installation on a roof is the generator and this will earn credits, which will then be sold to an electricity supplier.

What is a Community Benefit Society?

Community benefit society (BenCom) and a bona fide co-operative are the two main legal structures that can be registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act (Northern Ireland) 1969.

The IPS BenCom format is appropriate for community based democratic organisations.
BenComs characteristics are similar to those of a co-operative such as:

  • One member, one vote;
  • Return on capital must be limited;
  • Profit must be shared using an equitable formula; and
  • no artificial restrictions on membership

but includes a requirement to primarily benefit people other than its members, therefore there is no “dividend” pay out to its members. However, they can still pay an interest to the shareholders which is not speculative and considered enough to attract sufficient and necessary capital for the success of the enterprise.

A BenCom can ‘lock’ its assets. This means that upon dissolution the assets cannot be shared among the members, rather they must go to another asset locked organisation with similar objects.

What are community shares?

The term community share is used to refer to a unique form of share called ‘withdrawable share’ which can only be issued by co-operatives and community benefit societies. A withdrawable share is very different from an ordinary share which is the type normally issued by companies. A withdrawable share can be cashed-in, subject to the rules of the society and it is not tradable on the stock exchange. Every shareholder is a member with one vote.

Who looks after the solar panels?

NICE looks after all aspects of the system for you and you don’t have to worry about anything. The system works seamlessly with your existing electricity supply and the only way you will notice it’s there, other than seeing the panels on your roof, is by seeing a reduction in your electricity costs. NICE does everything else for you including dealing with the insurance, monitoring and maintenance of the system, as well as the administration of the community members who have invested in the various NICE community roofs.

How long does the arrangement last?

The PV system installed on your roof is owned and maintained by NICE for a period of 20 years, after which ownership of the system is handed over to you free of charge.

As the solar panels are expected to have a useful life of 35-40 years, then you will continue to enjoy the benefits of the solar installation for many years.

How can NICE afford to do this?

Well firstly NICE, as an incorporated community benefit society co-operatve, is a not-for-profit organisation and is focussed on maintaining low running costs. NICE is able to take advantage of the lower prices available from large scale purchasing possible because it represents and works collectively with a range of community organisations in a co-operative rather than commercial manner. NICE generates income primarily by claiming renewable energy generation tariffs, from selling any solar-generated electricity that you do not use in the building to PowerNI, and finally from the small charge levied for the solar-generated electricity used in the building itself. This income is then used to cover the costs of the installation and running costs, including the cost of raising and repaying the money used to purchase the equipment.

What happens to any surplus income NICE generates?

An annual surplus after covering expenses will enable the co-operative to give a moderate interest payment as a return to investing members (forecasted up to 4%).  One of NICE  primary objectives was the creation of a community benefit fund will allow the society to roll out further renewable energy and energy efficiency projects/services to the local community.

The advantage of this scheme is that the money from the generation tariffs etc. stays in NI and benefits the local community. Investment opportunities will be made available from which funding for future projects will be generated. Later phases of the project may have potential for job creation.

How does this differ from commercial ‘Free PV Rent-A-Roof’ arrangements?

Unlike the ‘Free PV’ offerings from commercial businesses, you do not rent your roof or roof space to NICE. Instead, you collaborate with NICE by agreeing to share your roof with NICE for a period of 20 years. In the very unlikely event that you wish to take over the ownership and maintenance of the system within the 20 year agreement period then, unlike the commercial ‘rent-a-roof’ arrangements, NICE offers a flexible and entirely fair/equitable way of doing this without any of the penalties which are a feature of all rent-a-roof schemes. As a community benefit society co-operative, NICE’s ethos is one of representing participating community building owners and their member communities and acting only in their collective best interests.

How does NICE raise the initial funds?

NICE will run a community share offer to raise the necessary funds, and there will be investment opportunities for the community you serve and for your own centre. This means that, in addition to electricity cost savings delivered to the community building, a share of the surplus income will return (by payment of share interest) to the very people interested in supporting what you do.

Who directs and controls NICE?

Participating building owners and any community members investing in NICE will co-own the enterprise on a ‘one-member-one-vote’ basis. In this way you will have your say on how the NICE is run! As a roof provider you will become a member of the Society and a co-owner of the enterprise, involved in its running and decision-making processes.