REPOWERBalcombe launches latest share offer for solar schools

REPOWERBalcombe has launched a new share offer to install solar arrays at two schools as the community energy group recovers from the cancellation of its planned solar farm.

The group is hoping to raise £110,000 to fund the installation of 100kWp of solar PV at schools in the Balcombe area. If successful, Crawley Down Village Church of England School and the nearby Imberhorne School in East Grinstead will each be fitted with 49.92 kWp systems expected to supply up to 80% of the schools’ electricity needs.

The remaining power will be exported into the grid, giving the schools an income from being pre-registered to the higher rate of feed-in tariff no longer available to new installations.

In an online post launching the new share offer, the group said: “We are excited to work with these schools who are at the heart of their communities and to provide an educational opportunity to the pupils.”

Martin Brown, head teacher at Imberhorne School, said: “Not only will solar energy provide the school with a better value power source, we believe we are also sending out a strong message about sustainability.

“Solar panels, are a ‘green’ renewable energy source that will reduce our carbon footprint, something the students and staff feel very strongly about. We hope that this step contributes to students’ learning and helps build a wider awareness of environmental matters.”

The share offer is expected to close on 25 March unless it is fully subscribed beforehand. The installations are then expected to be completed by 8 April allowing for less than a two week work schedule.

In its share offer document, REPOWERBalcombe points out that investors will no longer be able to benefit for tax reliefs available in its previous offers following the government’s decision to remove community energy projects from eligibility. However, investors in the co-operative are still expected to receive a 5% return per annum.

The group suffered immediately after the Treasury’s changes to tax relief, having to abandon plans for a 5MW solar farm in West Hoathly at Chiddinglye Farm. The development had already received planning permission however the quick succession of policy announcements made it impossible to proceed.

In a statement released in November, REPOWERBalcombe said: “We wanted our solar dream to inspire people all over the world, but the government have brought that dream to an end with a series of policy changes that are devastating to the community energy sector and the wider renewable energy sector in the UK.”

The project would have represented a symbolic victory for renewables after Balcombe found itself at the epicentre of the anti-fracking movement after the area was selected for drilling in July 2013. The resulting protests against oil and gas conglomerate Cuadrilla were widely credited with bringing the problems associated with fracking into the wider public consciousness.

Despite this setback, the group were still able to install 45kWp of solar PV in 2015 at Grange Farm, Turners Hill School and Balcombe School and is hoping to replicate this success with the two new developments.