Clean energy, generated locally. Surplus energy sold back to the grid. Residents free to invest as little as £250, and promised an annual return of 5%. Further profits placed in a community benefit fund to pay for local facilities or energy saving technologies for local people in fuel poverty. Britain’s community renewable sector is tiny but it is growing. More than 40 community schemes currently offer just 66MW of installed capacity but there is another 200MW of community energy in development.When people first hear the business plan for REPOWERBalcombe, one of an increasing number of energy co-operatives, they tend to have one response: where’s the catch?”I don’t think there is one,” says Tom Parker, a gardener and renewables expert who is a member of the new Sussex co-operative. “People think it’s too good to be true or that a bunch of volunteers can’t run a business. I got told the other day, ‘You won’t be able to run this in your lunch hour’. I’ve recently spent my lunch hours reducing my children’s school’s energy by 50% so I don’t see why we can’t run a co-op with so many more helpers.”Few people have heard about community energy but REPOWERBalcombe may put this quietly growing grassroots movement on the map. The affluent village in the rolling Sussex weald is famed for last year’s anti-fracking protests that got residents thinking about energy production and inspired a public meeting last autumn. Fifty people turned up and REPOWERBalcombe was born. The possibility of fracking polarised opinions, and while prospecting company Cuadrilla has said it will not frack in Balcombe it has a new 30-year lease on its village site and is planning to continue its search for oil. It was recently given permission by West Sussex county council to test oil extraction on a site in the outskirts of Balcombe.
Balcombe energy co-op: we aim to take power back from the corporations