Two years after it fought off shale oil developers, villagers in Balcombe are close to realising their clean energy dream
By Ed King
The epicentre of anti-fracking protests in the UK two years ago is about to take a major step away from fossil fuels.
Residents in the small village of Balcombe, West Sussex have announced plans for a crowd-funded community solar farm that they say will power around 1,200 homes.
Working with local power firm Southern Solar and the climate campaign group 10:10, REPOWERBalcombe will shortly submit an application for the 5 megawatt energy plant.
The plant will generate enough electricity to power Balcombe and neighbouring village West Hoathly say supporters – fulfilling the community’s aim to go 100% renewables.
“If all goes according to plan we should hear back from planning at in September – and when we hear back we’ll start fundraising,” said Leo Murray from 10:10.
“We’re talking about it being installed by the end of the year.”
Investors across the UK will be invited to back the project through the Abundance crowdfunding platform. Murray said he expected returns in the region of 5%.
REPOWERBalcombe was set up in the aftermath of the battle against fracking firm Cuadrilla, which culminated in a tense stand-off and saw green groups descend on the village in July 2013.
By January 2014 Cuadrilla announced it was suspending plans to use the controversial fracking technology in Balcombe to explore for oil, but only because the rocks beneath its site already had enough fractures.
A pilot solar project involving 69 panels on a local farm was set up in late 2014, and plans for a larger installation were backed by over 88% of the community in a recent vote.
“The investment for our solar installations at Grange Farm and the primary schools came entirely from local people. It’s been a wonderful show of local support for community energy,” said Joe Nixon, spokesman for the group in a statement.