Sussex Council has unanimously approved a 5MW solar farm in Balcombe, the Sussex village which has opposed fracking and embraced community energy.
The Repower Balcombe co-op says the planners’ decision makes possible its mission to generate the equivalent of 100% of Balcombe’s electricity demand through local renewables.
With more than 18,500 panels, the scheme at Chiddinglye Farm, near the neighbouring village of West Hoathly, is expected to meet electricity demand for both Balcombe and West Hoathly. The aim is to install it before 31 March 2016, when the government plans to stop solar farms with 5MW of capacity or less from accessing Renewables Obligation subsidies.
The deadline meant any delay to the planning decision could have scuppered the project. The race is now on to raise community finance for the scheme.
Balcombe was previously earmarked by Cuadrilla for shale oil exploration, but residents resisted this with support from environmental activists including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who was arrested during one of the Balcombe protests. Following these actions, local people formed Repower Balcombe, which has already installed solar panels locally at primary schools and a farm.
A spokesperson for Repower Balcombe said the co-op would soon be asking supporters from all over the UK to invest: “This is one of the most ambitious community solar projects ever,” they said. “Very soon we’ll be asking the whole country to help make it happen.
“But this isn’t just about getting power from the sun. It’s about the power of an example: a community thrust into the limelight and called nimbies for opposing fracking, are rolling up their sleeves to build something better.
“People all over the world are watching Balcombe right now, hoping this can work. Soon we’ll have a chance to prove them right.”