A Herefordshire-based solar cooperative has had to put proposed solar projects on hold after Government’s feed-in tariff (FiT) review rendered the proposed projects unviable.                      

The Leominster Community Solar Co-Operative (LCSC) managed to install a 49kWp system on the town’s Bridge Street Leisure Centre before swingeing cuts to the FiT were enforced on December 12.

The LCSC proved so popular that, not only did reach its target of £150,000 and install the solar PV system on time, but it also managed to exceed the target amount by 40 percent. The level of support for the scheme clearly shows the public’s appetite for community-owned solar initiatives across the UK.

However, Government’s unlawful slashing of solar subsidies and restrictive proposals for community-owned solar schemes has meant that the additional 40 percent of funding had to be returned to investors rather than being invested in other schemes.

Eithne George of the LCSC said: “The success of the Leominster Community Solar project serves to illustrate how popular community solar initiatives like this are. It addresses issues around planning as well as providing the local community with a source of its own power. We hope the Government take note of the fact that other communities are being deprived of such schemes because of the unpredictability of the system, not because of lack of interest.”

Last week, a partnership of civil society leaders met with the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne, to discuss the state of community-owned green projects. The coalition, which included the National Trust, Church of England and CPRE, urged Government to do more to support community projects in the UK. Currently less than 1 percent of the renewable energy generated in the UK is produced by communities. More information about how the FiT will support community solar schemes is expected to be outlined next week when the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) publishes its solar FiT consultation document.

Ben Whittle, Technical Manager at Southern Solar and one of the founding directors of LCSC, said: “Our aim had always been to maximise involvement of people living in or close to Leominster and this was a fantastic result.  It shows there is a massive groundswell of support for renewable energy and this sort of project enables anyone with some savings to take part, irrespective of whether they own their own home or can afford to put a solar array on their own roof”. 

Howard Johns, Managing Director of Southern Solar and Chairman of the Solar Trade Association argued that community-owned green projects were the perfect example of Government’s much mooted ‘Big Society’ in action, saying: “Community-owned energy projects such as the Leominster cooperative present one of the best opportunities for us to convert the UK to a low-carbon economy. The cuts to the FiT subsidy have made it impossible for communities to consider investing in community solar projects.  We hope that this is taken into account by the Government, who, before the elections, outlined that they wanted local communities to have more of a stake in their local energy production.”