'Fracking village' goes solar

A UK village made famous after strong anti-fracking protests has installed the first community-owned solar panel project.

Local residents from Balcome, West Sussex set up a local energy co-operative REPOWERBalcombe after controversy over fracking by oil and gas company Cuadrilla in the summer of 2013.  

The co-op has installed a total of 69 panels on the roof of a cow-shed at the nearby family-run Grange Farm as part of a long-term plan to generate enough power to match the entire electricity use of the village.

"We are delighted to have our first solar panel installation under way, as part of our bigger project to power the equivalent of our entire village's electricity using clean and renewable energy," said Joe Nixon, REPOWERBalcombe’s spokesman.

The panels will produce 18,000kWh of electricity each year. Grange Farm will be able to buy the electricity for at least 30 per cent cheaper than the best market-price, while the association will retain the Government feed-in tariff subsidy to pay dividends to their members and to fund local community projects.

"It's great to be involved in doing something for our community and the environment, and nice to see the cow-shed roof being put to good use, plus we get a reduction on our electricity bills," said Chris Jarvis, the owner of the Grange Farm.

According to organisers, the panels will produce just over 1 per cent of the community’s electricity needs, but they are negotiating with three local schools to install solar panels on its rooftops, which would account for 10 per cent of the village electricity’s demand. This will be paid for by a community share issue to local residents worth around £300,000.

"Balcombe has come to symbolise the choice Britain faces about our energy future - fracking or clean, renewable energy,” said Leo Murray, community energy campaigner.

"It is particularly apt that the community here have installed their first solar panels in the same week that Parliament has cast fresh doubt over the whole fracking project in the UK.

"Seeing these panels go up is a major milestone on REPOWERBalcombe's journey and these first steps are blazing a trail for other communities to follow. The people here are part of a fast-growing movement to take back control of Britain's energy future from giant, fossil-powered energy companies."

The first installation coincides with a call to suspend fracking for shale gas from a committee of MPS, which was later rejected by Westminster and might be on the cards in Scotland, and Lancashire councillors delaying a decision on Cuadrilla’s fracking proposal.    

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