Solar project completed in village
Residents from a village which was at the centre of huge anti-fracking protests have seen the completion of their first community-owned solar panel project.
A total of 69 panels have been installed on a cow-shed as part of a long-term plan to generate enough power to match the entire electricity use of Balcombe in West Sussex.
Thousands of protesters converged on Balcombe in the summer of 2013 after energy firm Cuadrilla started exploratory drilling for oil, sparking fears that it would go on to frack there.
The solar installation at family-run Grange Farm in nearby Crawley Down is a first step by local energy co-operative RepowerBalcombe.
Organisers said the panels will generate just over 1% of the community's electricity needs, but by the summer they hope to be heading towards 10% with the roll-out of other projects.
RepowerBalcombe spokesman Joe Nixon said: "We are delighted to have our first solar panel installation under way, as part of our bigger project to power the equivalent of all our village's electricity using clean and renewable energy."
Grange Farm owner Chris Jarvis said: "It's great to be involved in doing something for our community and the environment, and nice to see the cow-shed roof being put to good use, plus we get a reduction on our electricity bills."
The £27,300 cost of the 69 panels was met by local co-op members keen to unite the community around locally-owned power following the controversy over fracking.
The panels will produce more than 18,000 kWh of electricity a year, which will be sold back to the farm's owners at a fixed, 30% below-market rate, for the life of the equipment, RepowerBalcombe said.
The co-op will then retain the Government feed-in tariff subsidy to pay dividends to their members and to fund local community projects.
Talks are ongoing about installing panels on the rooftops of three local schools, paid for by a community share issue worth around £300,000.
Community energy campaigner Leo Murray said: "Balcombe has come to symbolise the choice Britain faces about our energy future - fracking or clean, renewable energy.
"It is particularly apt that the community here have installed their first solar panels in the same week that Parliament has cast fresh doubt over the whole fracking project in the UK.
"Seeing these panels go up is a major milestone on RepowerBalcombe's journey, and these first steps are blazing a trail for other communities to follow.
"The people here are part of a fast-growing movement to take back control of Britain's energy future from giant, fossil-powered energy companies."