Controversial fracking site aims for solar self-sufficiency

Residents of Balcombe hope to heal the rifts caused by fracking plans with a solar co-operative

Residents in Balcombe, Sussex, famous for its anti-fracking protests last summer, plan to use solar power to become 100% energy self-sufficient.

The locals, who have set up the REPOWERBalcombe Co-operative, will put out a community share offering for £300,000 in order to install photovoltaic (PV) solar panels at six sites around the village.

They say it would be enough to supply 7.5% of the village’s power demand, with a view to the area eventually becoming energy self-sufficient through solar.

In late March the co-operative announced that it had signed a lease to host the first 19kW array on the roof of a cowshed at the local family-owned Grange Farm. Discussions are taking place with a further five sites, which will receive a discount on the energy.

Each of the sites is predicted to deliver at least a 5% return to investors over its 20-year lifespan, with profits used for community benefit.

The quiet and picturesque country village hit the headlines over its peaceful protests in 2013, organised to stop companies using the controversial oil extraction method known as fracking (hydraulic fracturing underground) in the area. Critics say that fracking destroys land, pollutes water and is water intensive, but supporters hail it as a way of creating jobs and boosting energy security.

One hundred and twenty people, including MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas, were arrested at the site, with most accused of obstructing a public highway. So far a number have been acquitted, including Lucas, who was found not guilty following a trial on 17 April.

On 29 April the REPOWERBalcombe group showed its dismay on Twitter as news broke that shale gas explorer Cuadrilla had been given the go-ahead to test oil flow rates in the area, a practice which generally precedes fracking.
Chris Jarvis, spokesperson at Grange Farm, told the Brighton Argus that “villagers clubbed together to start the new energy initiative partly as a way to heal rifts caused by the controversial drilling operations and protests that took place last summer.”

Leo Murray, from the carbon-cutting initiative 10:10, which is supporting the project, told the Argus: “We’re being told that the only choice we have is being held to ransom by Russian gas or drilling up our countryside for shale gas. But the people of Balcombe are showing us the way out of this dilemma with a different choice.”