The ‘fracking village’ of Balcombe has abandoned its plans to run on community-owned solar power. REPOWERBalcombe, the bencom behind the scheme, blames “the Government’s constantly shifting energy policy” for the move.
After receiving planning permission last month for a 18,500 panel solar farm at Chiddinglye Farm, East Grinstead, REPOWERBalcombe was on target to match the electricity demand of both Balcombe and the nearby village of West Hoathly. But this week it admitted the scheme was no longer possible. The solar farm will go ahead but will be owned by a commercial developer, not the community.
After unexpected solar cuts announced in the summer, it was a race against time to have the project plugged in by 31 March 2016. At the same time, the bencom was unable to responsibly issue a share offer until the Department of Energy and Climate Change formally responded to the consultation on these cuts. The final nail in the coffin was a sudden, unexpected amendment to a finance bill announced last week, reversing a promise made in March for continued support in the form of EIS tax relief.
REPOWERBalcombe still plan two more school-based solar sites. However, they had initially hoped to work with five sites, but changes to Feed-in Tariffs, which came in at the end of September, meant only two sites could be registered, and these were almost half the size they could have been.
Joe Nixon of REPOWERBalcombe said: “It was an incredibly hard decision to come to, but the policy situation simply meant we were haemorrhaging investor confidence. We’re still incredibly proud of the work we’ve done, and excited to see the farm open next year.
“But it’s bitterly disappointing that it won’t be a community-run project, because we don’t just need to decarbonise our energy system, we need to give people more of a say in it.”
Mille Darling, campaign manager at 10:10, said: “What the people of Balcombe have done is nothing less than extraordinary. I saw the fracking drills drive into the village back in 2013, and this community-led solar project is a million miles from that. Still, I’m not only sad, I’m also incredibly angry that they’ve been put in a position which means it can’t be community-run.
“Throughout REPOWERBalcombe’s existence we’ve seen the community energy sector blossom and grow and yet, at the same time, increasingly attacked via regressive Government changes.
“The UK public have ambitious plans for how they want to transform our energy system, they have the skills and the will to do it. It’s time the Government started to support them.”