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Installation of solar panels on the roof of Ore College, another ESC project backed by community shares (photo: ESC).

Installation of solar panels on the roof of Ore College, another ESC project backed by community shares (photo: ESC).

ESC launch community share offer for solar panel projects

Energise Sussex Coast is launching a new community share offer to fund the installation of solar panels on the roofs of five schools in Hastings. The offer will be launched at a meeting at St Leonards Academy on Wednesday 18 September. Nick Terdre reports.

Management of the project, including raising the funds and installing the solar arrays, is entrusted to Energise South, which Energise Sussex Coast (ESC) has set up  as its solar installation arm. The aim of the share offer is to raise £400,000 to enable all the schools to be fitted with solar arrays, according to campaign manager Kate Meakin.

In total solar panels with some 400 kilowatts capacity will be installed, with more than half – 220 – at St Leonards Academy. The other schools are Hastings Academy (88 kW), Churchwood Primary School (19), Dudley Infant Academy (17) and The Baird Primary (60). The schools are all part of the University of Brighton Academies Trust.

Kate’s hope is that as much as possible of the funds will be raised locally – and there are reasons to be optimistic, as nearly £110,000 of the £180,000 raised in ESC’s previous community share offer, carried out in conjunction with Brighton Energy Coop for the installation of solar panels on Ore College, came from investors with Hastings postcodes.

Individuals can invest from £50 to a maximum of £30,000, with annual interest being paid at 5%. Local folk get the first bite of the cherry, but if there is a shortfall in funds raised, the offer will be extended elsewhere. £400,000 is seen as a realistic target – renewable energy projects are proving a popular investment at this time of low interest rates, though of course they are as subject to the same caveats about returns not being guaranteed as any other investment.

Energise South has other sites in the pipeline, including Sandown Primary, Christ Church in Ore and Hastings Furniture Service.

Responsible for all costs

Energise South will be responsible for all costs associated with mounting and maintaining the solar arrays, which it will own. It has a licence with each school allowing it to keep the arrays in place for 25 years. For their part the schools undertake to buy the electricity generated on their roofs, for which they will pay a significantly lower tariff than those offered by the large private suppliers.

At a time when schools are struggling financially, that is an important feature of the arrangement, Kate says. It also has an educational angle, teaching the students about renewable energy and perhaps some of the commercial realities of life, as well as contributing to the town’s carbon reduction.

Any surplus electricity generated will be sold to the national grid. As a community energy company, Energy South benefits from an extension of the government’s feed-in tariff to the end of next March, when the tariff will be withdrawn. That means that any future projects wanting to qualify for the tariff will have to be signed off by Christmas and completed by March.

Access to the feed-in tariff is essential to the viability of smaller scale projects, such as the five schools in the first phase, Kate says. Larger scale sites should be viable without it.

Making a difference

Energy South’s mission is to “make a difference in the progress of the South East to zero carbon and to contribute both in actual installations and in public awareness to reaching that target by 2030.”

It is also part of the ESC philosophy of democratising the ownership of local energy networks, in contrast to the prevailing model in which energy generation and supply is controlled by large private companies.

So the more shareholders, the better, as far as Energise South is concerned. As members of the society, shareholders have a say and a vote in the company’s activities.

Like ESC, Energy South is part of the Energy4All family of energy coops. “With around 15,000 members and £60 million worth of solar installations behind it over the last 17 years, this organisation guarantees that your investment will not only be good for the planet, but for your pocket too,” says ESC.

The Ore College project proved a successful introduction for ESC to the field of community-funded projects. The actual mounting of the 1,066 solar panels took only six days, and on sunny days the array provides 76% of the college’s energy needs, thus delivering substantial savings.

 

Energy South Community Share Offer Wednesday 18 September, 6-8pm, St Leonards Academy, Edinburgh Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 8HH. Entry is open to all, but you are asked to register online. Separate registration is required to order a copy of the share offer document or indicate interest.

 

Posted 18:20 Wednesday, Sep 11, 2019 In: Energy

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