Last year, Balcombe hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Targeted to be first in a new wave of oil and gas drilling, the sleepy West Sussex village found itself in the eye of the national storm surrounding the push for fracking in the UK.
This year will be different. Keen to see a positive, practical response to the divisive fracking debate, residents have set up a clean-energy co-op called REPOWERBalcombe. The goal: build enough community-owned solar power to match the electricity needs of all 760 homes in the village within 2 years.
Today (27th March) they are publicly launching their coop and its aim, for the first time. Climate Change campaign 10:10, has been lending the community a hand to help set it up, and today are launching their “Back Balcombe” campaign, to do exactly that – offering the nation a chance to support the village’s ambition to reject fracking and move to power itself from clean renewable sources, and hopefully inspire people around the UK to get involved with repowering their community
Research from the Centre for Alternative Technology shows that it would be possible to power Britain entirely by renewable energy without having to use fossil fuels. The Zero Carbon Britain report shows that a mixture of renewable energy sources, alongside energy efficiency measures and careful land management could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero within 15 years. Balcombe’s decision to embrace renewable solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuels is a very welcome step that exemplifies the decisions that need to be taken for the whole of the UK.
Kit Jones from the Centre for Alternative Technology said:
“This is a brilliant milestone on the path to a Zero Carbon Britain. It is an example of a community that has rejected the endless race for more extreme fossil fuels and embraced a positive alternative. We know that an energy system supplied entirely by renewable energy is possible. We should back Balcome and hope that it inspires other communities to take energy production into their own hands too.”
Joe Nixon, cofounder of REPOWERBalcombe said:
“We all need energy, but buying dirty fossil power from giant utilities is no longer the only option. Advances in renewable technology mean that communities like ours can now generate the energy we need ourselves, locally, in a way that benefits us directly instead of big power companies – and helps the environment instead of harming it. This is win-win for Balcombe and for the planet.
Leo Murray, from 10:10 and the Back Balcombe campaign said:
“People don’t want fracking but are being told there is no alternative if we want to keep the lights on and have secure power supplies. Well there is. Balcombe is sending a clear message that while fracking has to be forced on communities, they choose clean renewable power.
“If the UK is to cut carbon emissions and meet its renewable energy targets it has to take local and community owned energy more seriously. Massive offshore wind farms and tidal turbines are essential but so is our turning our homes, farms, shops, village halls and rivers into clean power stations.”
You can find the website of the REPOWERBalcombe community energy coop here: www.repowerbalcombe.com
You can find out more about Zero Carbon Britain here: www.zerocarbonbritain.org/
You can find the website of 10:10’s Back Balcombe campaign here: www.backbalcombe.org
How it works
The first phase of the energy scheme will be all be funded locally. Residents who put money into shares in the the co-op will become joint owners, giving them a say in how it’s run. These local owners will put up the capital needed to repower the village to the equivalent of 10% of its electricity needs.
While REPOWERBalcombe was set up to serve a local need, Balcombe’s status as the front line of fracking in the UK means the project is likely to attract national support.
The group wants to harness this to fund a much larger second phase. Working with 10:10’s Back Balcombe campaign and Energy4All, they’re developing a mechanism that will allow anyone to invest in helping them meet their power needs from clean renewable energy, while keeping control in local hands.
Surplus income from the scheme, (expected to be tens of thousands of pounds a year) will go into a community benefit fund set aside to pay for energy efficiency improvements for local homes and community buildings.
The first installation will be at Grange Farm, a family farm close to the village, with a handful of other sites expected to go public in the next few weeks. Overall REPOWERBalcombe aims to install around three megawatts of capacity overall, adding up to about 12,000 solar panels in total.