‘Fracking village’ solar farm support gathers momentum

Plans to develop a 5MW community-owned solar farm in Balcombe, the village at the centre of a significant anti-fracking movement, have continued to gather support from local residents.

Villagers established a renewable energy cooperative named Repower Balcombe in December 2013 in order to develop local renewable energy sources in response to drilling conducted by oil and gas conglomerate Cuadrilla earlier that year.

Plans for the installation at Chiddinglye Farm were submitted earlier this year and have been open for public comment since mid-June. Climate change charity 10:10 has been supporting the project and revealed that the application has received 69 positive comments, while more than 800 comments from across the UK have also been sent to 10:10 in favour of the farm being granted approval.

Renewable energy developers Low Carbon and Southern Solar are collaborating on the project which will be developed specifically to preserve local views. Nothing will be constructed above three metres in height and hedgerows will be maintained to attract local wildlife.

Repower Balcombe spokesman Joe Nixon said: “This planning application is the result of a lot a hard work by the community over the last two years and it’s fantastic to see the level of support from people in Sussex and around the country.”

Chiddinglye Farm is to carry on from Repower Balcombe’s pilot project, which comprised a 69-panel rooftop installation on a nearby cowshed. Two local schools will also receive rooftop installations later this month.

Jesse Scharf, community energy campaigner at 10:10, said the project showed that Balcombe’s fight against fracking had “struck a chord with the nation”. “With the government’s own data showing public support for fracking at an all time low, it’s time Amber Rudd said more about how she plans to support the growth of renewables in the UK,” he said.

Balcombe was the scene of significant protests against fracking for petroleum after the Environment Agency granted Cuadrilla a licence to drill a well in July 2013. Protestors targeted not only the drilling site, but also Cuadrilla’s headquarters in Lichfield, Staffordshire and at the London offices of Bell Pottinger, the company’s PR firm.

The protests were widely credited with bringing the problems associated with fracking into the wider public consciousness and last week’s opinion tracker from the Department for Energy and Climate Change showed public support of fracking to have fallen to an all time low of 21%.