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Cluny takes on climate change

January 25, 2021 By Adelle Horler
Aerial of Cluny

In line with the Findhorn Foundation’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030, a new solar power array for Cluny will soon catapult this Victorian building into the 21st century, thanks partly to the vision of resident Craig Phizacklea.

Planning permission has been granted to place 28 solar panels on the veranda atop Cluny Hill’s dining room, to help power the 19th century former hotel – and prove that even centuries-old buildings can play their part in reducing our impact on the Earth.

Craig Phizacklea, who has lived and served in Cluny for the past nine years, realised the possibility in early September 2019.

Craig Phizacklea

Craig Phizacklea

‘With a passion for renewables and caring for the Earth, I’d been thinking about a solar array for Cluny since 2012, but when the nudge came again, this time it felt more doable. We were sitting in the garden discussing renewable energy over lunch, and I looked up and said: I’d love to see this covered with solar panels, and all the south side of Cluny’s rooftops.’

Craig began researching possible solar systems and what had been done elsewhere recently.

A sense of synchronicity

‘Then at the end of September, Mari Hollander hosted a talk in the Upper CC by Dr Paul Tuohy of the University of Strathclyde’s Energy Systems Research Unit, called 100% Renewable Energy Futures (and the absurdity of biofuels).
‘There was a sense of synchronicity around this. George Goudsmit, director of AES Solar, was also there. He’d been a co-worker for many years and was at one time Cluny’s dining room focaliser. I’d been wanting to talk to him about possibilities. When he heard the idea he looked at me and said: “I don’t want to disappoint you, Craig, but I’ve been to Cluny a few times over the years to look at the same thing, and it’s come to nothing.”’

A setback. But Craig said: ‘Ah, okay… I have a sense it could be different now.’

Proposed solar array on Cluny's roof

The proposed solar array on Cluny’s roof, marked in red

George kindly agreed to come for a meeting anyway, and we later met with Tara Schelander, Cluny’s Interface focaliser.

‘George expressed concerns over where the money would come from, which had been a problem in the past. I remember Tara saying very clearly: “Don’t worry about the money, it will come.” That was her insight.’

Over the following months Craig spoke with Alessandro Daboni, the Foundation’s asset manager, and Iris Toister, environment steward, and discovered they were also keen to see the project happen.

‘Iris asked me to contact Tallis Tibbo, who was researching possible grants for the panels. The bid deadline was Friday, and this was Tuesday. We spent the afternoon on Zoom and by Friday morning we had completed an application, together with quotes and all the figures.

‘Sadly it wasn’t successful. But the follow-up bid was, thanks to the generosity and vision of the SSE Beatrice Partnership Fund.’

Cluny as an inspirationPower generated

With more time on the second bid, they were able to outline some of the wider advantages the solar system would bring, including benefitting and inspiring the thousands of guests that normally come through Cluny, and encouraging local businesses and homes in the Forres area to consider renewable energy. For the Foundation, Cluny would also serve as an updated example of shared, eco-living and its impact on finances and the climate would be lowered.

‘We later realised a slightly more expensive system could be more reliable, generate more power and last longer. We asked AES and two other companies to quote for the higher spec system, and were very happy to offer the work to local Forres-based AES Solar.’

The Beatrice Partnership Fund contributed over £10 000, and The Naturesave Trust, a charity funded by our insurance broker, kindly gave £5000, which covered almost all the capital outlay.

Less carbon dioxideGetting the green light

With a green light from Moray Council’s planning department – required since Cluny is in a conservation area – the panels are on their way. Installation is planned for this February.

‘I’m so grateful for all the help with realising this project, and for how it will help this beautiful, historic building on Cluny Hill be even more of an inspiration to many. I see this project as another turn of the wheel in helping Cluny become sustainable, as a seed for solar panels on the other south-facing roofs of the building, and to support the Foundation’s goal of reaching carbon neutral status by 2030.’

Craig has more ideas in the pipeline to further lower Cluny’s carbon footprint, such as air source heat pumps and micro wind turbines. ‘Given Covid and the impact on the Findhorn Foundation, I’m grateful that this solar system will help reduce the financial burden of this beloved building…. and I’m hoping that what we do at Cluny will be an inspiration for other historic buildings.’

Image credit: Mark Richards, auroraimaging.eu

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