UK’s first community-owned solar power station gets green light

£300,000 raised by community group to put PV solar panels on brewery in Lewes

Britain’s first solar power station owned by local people is now being established, following the success of a community investment scheme.

Having received planning permission, an array of 544 photovoltaic (PV) panels is being constructed on the roof of Harvey’s brewery in Lewes. Set to go live by the end of July, it is the first of its kind in the country according to the group behind it.

Ouse Valley Energy Services Company Limited (Ovesco), an offshoot of Transition Lewes, launched the scheme on Tuesday 19 April at Lewes Town Hall, offering a share issue for the capital cost of £307,000.

The installation will generate 92,000 kilowatt hours of green electricity each year – enough to save more than 40 tonnes of CO2 annually. Assembled in Wales by Sharp and guaranteed for 25 years, the panels could go on producing electricity for many more years.

Investing in the scheme provides a combination of community and personal benefit. Interest will be generated via the new solar PV feed-in tariffs for electricity exported to the grid, which are guaranteed by the government for 25 years. While earning a 4% return, shareholders will be playing their part in making carbon reduction happen and investing in the future of their children. Ovesco also plans to use income to finance local community activities, such as energy advice and events. Harveys will use some of the electricity free of charge for its operations.

Over 200 local people have invested amounts between £250 and a few thousand pounds and money invested will be repaid in full to shareholders at the end of the 25-year scheme.

The share launch evening began with £170k already pledged. Potential investors were treated to a specially brewed Harvey’s Solar Ale, and nibbles from Bills, a local restaurant.

Speaking at the launch, Norman Baker, MP for Lewes and transport minister, said: “Energy should be bottom up, not top down”. He also emphasised the importance of retro-fitting homes for energy efficiency, which would reduce the need for electricity generation.

Stating the need for renewables, Baker said: “With issues of energy security, peak oil, and gas coming from unstable regimes, even those who aren’t green can see the point in developing renewables in the short term.” He dismissed nuclear power as “unable to be developed without substantial subsidy.”

Referring to the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, Huw Irranca-Davies, MP for Gower and shadow energy minister, agreed. “Fukushima has helped us take a proper view of the total cost of nuclear,” he said, but added that one incident should not determine policy and in his view, coal is the most environmentally dangerous energy source.

The shadow minister pointed out that the UK has the best opportunity in the world to develop wind, wave and tidal power, but the financial mechanisms to take advantage of these natural resources are not there. “What we see here tonight is a model to go round the country,” he said.

Also speaking at the launch, Sara Parkin OBE, founder director of Forum for the Future, said that we needed to move away from nuclear, coal and large-scale wind. “The battle is between big and small energy,” she said. To reduce the transmission waste, “we need to get the generation sources near to where we are – and the answer to that is small scale renewables,” she added.

Once the solar plant is operational, Ovesco will be looking for more ways to generate local energy and it is also developing a guide to help other groups fund similar projects through community share schemes.