The community at the centre of last summer’s anti-fracking protests has launched its own renewable power company to “heal the rifts” caused by the proposal for controversial energy extraction.
Residents of Balcombe are set to install £300,000 worth of solar panels on the rooftops of local buildings in an attempt to power 7.5% of the village.
The cooperative will see villagers who invest into the clean energy initiative receive 5% returns over the life of the scheme.
Joe Nixon, from the new company named REPOWER Balcombe, 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.”
The co-operative celebrated the launch of the project today with the signing of a lease for 19kW of solar panels on a cow shed at the family-run Grange Farm.
In exchange for housing the panels, the farm will receive 33% discount on electricity for the next 25 years.
The cost of this initial pilot scheme is estimated to be around £33,000, which is to be funded by the founders of the group and their friends.
Chris Jarvis, of Grange Farm, who has agreed to house the initial panels, said: “Villagers clubbed together to start the new energy initiative partly as a way to heal rifts caused by the controversial drilling operations and protests that took place last summer.”
Talks will now take place to arrange the installation of solar panels at five further sites in and around the village.
Residents will be able to buy into the scheme with £300,000 worth of shares on offer. Investors will receive 5% return on anything they put in.
The combined output of all the six sites is expected to be enough to match the demand for 50 of the village’s 760 homes. Plans are in place for a second wave of installation to power the remaining 700.
Leo Murray, from the 10:10 campaign, which is supporting the project, said: “We’re being told that the only choice we have is being held to ransom by Russian gas or drilling up our countryside for shale gas.
“But the people of Balcombe are showing us the way out of this dilemma with a different choice – community-owned renewable energy.”