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Hong Kong environmental issues

Clean energy: government wants to make it easier for Hong Kong schools to sell electricity to the public

Officials seek to make feed-in tariff scheme less bureaucratic amid complaints from educational institutions and non-profit groups

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 June, 2018, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 June, 2018, 11:08pm

Schools in Hong Kong want to sell electricity to the public grid but there are concerns over red tape and high entry costs.

The possibility has arisen as more educational institutions have shown an interest in signing up to the feed-in tariff, which allows private premises with renewable energy facilities, such as rooftop solar panels or wind systems, to sell power at above-market rates depending on capacity.

Some 60,000 village houses are in the scheme’s cross hairs, but schools and non-profit organisations with relatively larger floor areas are expected to be major contributors.

“The Environment Bureau and the Education Bureau are discussing detailed arrangements for schools to participate in a ‘schools feed-in tariff plan’,” an Education Bureau spokesman said, noting more details would be announced soon.

At St Bonaventure Catholic Primary School in Diamond Hill, 60 solar photovoltaic panels are piled up on the auditorium roof waiting to be installed and connected to the public grid.

If all goes to plan, the government-aided school in October will start generating 60 kilowatt hours of electricity per day, based on eight hours of sunlight.

With the tariffs, enough power would be generated to help offset electricity bills by 20 to 40 per cent a month.

“Extra electricity can be sold back to [power supplier] CLP, so we might even be able to earn a little from it,” said principal Ada Cheung Wai-ching, a keen advocate of environmental education.

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Cheung calculated the school would recoup its investment costs in about five years.

But she said if the government were really committed to spurring renewable energy, education officials could do more to help.

Getting started is expensive. An electric meter and isolation switch must be installed and the structures need to be stabilised and proved safe as a minor works project.

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Installation and contracting costs run a few hundred thousand dollars and are mostly raised through donations, not the school’s money.

“We feel we need more government support, especially for the first step” Cheung said, citing interest- free loans or technical advice from the Architectural Services Department as helpful.

Previous attempts to apply to the city’s Environment and Conservation Fund for renewable energy-related investments came to nothing. A bid on this would be even less likely because such a “double subsidy” – getting government funding for a project one could profit from – is discouraged.

Principal Jonathan Lai Ping-wah of the government-aided Lee Kau Yan Memorial School in Kai Tak, is considering installing solar panels on his school’s three rooftops and applying for the scheme. But he is “cautiously optimistic” about the school’s chances.

Red tape as well as high installation and inspection expenses stand in the way, Lai said. Hiring an authorised person cleared by the Buildings Department to check the loading of the roofs costs at least HK$100,000 to HK$200,000 regardless of the final result.

There needs to be some synergy
Jonathan Lai Ping-wah, Lee Kay Yan Memorial School

“We would really have to justify this to the school management committee.”

In addition, technical support and clarity from officials had been minimal, he said.

Lai does not know, for example, whether sales from electricity would go into the school’s private “trading operations” account – where rental revenues for event space are deposited – or the operating account for government funds and utility bills.

“My concern is that there is never enough coordination between the [environment and education] bureaus on environmental schemes,” Lai said. “There needs to be some synergy.”

The principal recalled trying to apply for funding for a green roof a few years ago, only to give up after the Education Bureau and Architectural Services Department said they would not be responsible for maintenance.

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He urged the bureau to “lead the education sector” into the green energy movement and to invite other departments to provide schools with the right professional and technical advice.

An Education Bureau spokesman said all schools had to obtain prior approval before making any structural changes or additions to their premises.

“If schools need to install solar panels, it is advisable to discuss with the Education Bureau for appropriate advice first,” the spokesman added.