SUSSEX is leading the crusade to use more renewable energy sources. In a vow to fight looming threats of fuel poverty, hikes in energy costs and the return of blackouts, the county has seen scores of community energy groups start up this year.

But what does it all mean and how can it benefit you? FLORA THOMPSON reports.

WHAT is community energy?

Perhaps a definition for the phrase does not instantly spring to mind, and as a result, its importance may pass many of us by.

A small army of volunteers, keen to join the crusade in reducing our carbon footprint and save people money, has joined the project and is taking Sussex by storm.

The groups, which are popping up all over the county, join 6,000 across the UK, and have formed the Community Energy South network to introduce renewable energy in their homes and communal buildings.

A series of conferences in Lewes, Forest Row and Flimwell concluded on Monday and featured presentations from a host of guest speakers.

The free events aimed to give groups, councils, individuals and businesses, information about how they can get involved.

Lewes-based Ouse Valley Community Services Company (Ovesco), which calls itself the “vanguard of community energy,” was one of the organisers.

Ovesco was one of the UK’s first community-owned renewable energy providers and was awarded a £50,000 grant from the Community Energy Peer Mentoring Fund to help progress the campaign in Sussex.

It has also been helping install community-owned solar projects in schools and businesses since it was set up in 2007. It is now encouraging volunteer groups.

Ovesco director Ollie Pendered, also a chairman of the Barcombe Energy Group, said: “The UK does not own its own gas or coal supplies and nuclear power is astronomically expensive.

“Coal and gas stations are coming to the end of their lives and we are very close to black outs and concerns for our power supplies because of this.

“We are just playing out part and helping groups become resilient and prepare for this.

“If we are faced next year with energy price rises of up to 40 per cent, fuel poverty will be a real issue.

“If people are worried about their rising energy costs they can get in touch with their local group. We want to change the way people use energy and think about energy consumption.”

Mr Pendered said the success of the events proved how many people are considering community energy.

He said: “I was particularly pleased about the number of people from new areas, such as Wadhurst, Mayfield, Cuckfield and Horsted Keynes, which expressed an interest in the scheme.

“Community energy across our region is growing. These event have helped grow support for our groups and encourage new communities to get involved and empowered to build a low carbon future.”

He said there was proof the scheme was already working: “An elderly lady in Hailsham sought advice from a pop-up energy shop and was able to save £800 on her bills.

“The shop was visited by 400 people in one week in April.”

To mark the talks the organisation’s shareholders asked a portion of their investments to be donated to three Lewes schools.

Ringmer Community College, The Priory School and Chailey School each received £250 and were asked to come up with ideas on how they could use the funding to becoming even more environmentally friendly.


They all gave presentations at the Lewes conference.

Ringmer Community College and Sixth Form is labelled a Green Flag ambassador eco-school and is a winner of the Ashden Award, which celebrates environmental work.

Its use of renewable energy resources has reduced CO2 emissions by around 600 tonnes a year.

Stephen Green, the school’s environmental co-ordinator, said: “We believe all children should be given an insight into the energy challenges which they might face in their lives, be it for environmental or economic reasons.

“The college uses renewable energy sources including biomass, solar, ground source heat pumps and a wind turbine and staff and students are expected to take personal responsibility for their energy consumption.

“Sharing our work with the wider community is an excellent experience for students.”

Lewes MP Norman Baker led a debate during the first conference at the Linklater Pavilion on September 19.

He said: “This was an opportunity for communities to come together and discover the development of local power networks.

“It is often communities and local interest leads on some of the most innovative community energy projects.

“Bringing together schools, energy champions and communities which are interested in making a difference is a great way of learning and supporting more initiatives as well as developing relationships to help get some of these projects started.”

Millie Darling, of the Back Balcombe campaign, spoke about the project as a better alternative to fracking.

She said: “Being part of the network has been a great help to repower Balcombe.

“I was pleased to speak and hope these events can inspire more community energy groups to get going."

East Sussex county councillor Rosalyn St Pierre, a shadow portfolio holder for the environment and transport who also led a debate at one event, said it “gave insight into the enormous potential” of the project.

She said: “The presentations were at the cutting edge of schemes that benefit communities by decreasing or eliminating the need for fossil fuels and provide a financial return. I will see what extra support can be provided for projects."

Greg Barker, the former minister for energy and climate change, praised the project.

He said: “I want to see new strong partnerships between community groups, local authorities and businesses leading the way to create a diverse and local energy sector.”

To get involved and for more information visit