BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 07 April '17

Brighton Energy Co-op launches its fifth share invitation, showing community energy is still the way forward

This article appears in the spring issue of MyGreenPod.com Magazine, distributed with the Guardian on 07 April 2017. Click here to read the full digital issue online.

Brighton Energy Co-op (BEC) – which was part of the UK’s first wave of community energy initiatives – has raised £1.5m and installed 1.3MWs of solar PV since its birth in 2010. The last few years have been as turbulent for BEC as they have for the wider renewable energy sector – but with a portfolio of arrays all signed up to a high Feed-in Tariff (FiT), BEC has a sound platform from which to develop new projects.

FROM CHURCHES TO WAREHOUSES

BEC has come a long way since founder Will Cottrell held its initial public meeting. The co-operative now has 350 investors; it has created 17 separate solar arrays and installed solar PV on a range of sites including churches, warehouses, ofices, flats, factories, a school and a university. BEC has been happy to work with any organisation that has a suitable roof, wants to save money on electricity and is keen to reduce its CO2 emissions.

After covering operational costs and paying a return to members, BEC also provides an annual community fund to support projects with objectives similar to its own. Recently BEC funded a PV array on an off-grid community centre and 30 energy efficiency visits for residents in fuel poverty.

The FiT rate for solar PV fell by over 60% in 2016, yet BEC will press ahead with plans to install new solar arrays in 2017. The difference now is that most of the co-op’s income must come from electricity sales rather than the FiT.

A NEW SHARE INVITATION

BEC’s next project will be at the University of Brighton’s Eastbourne campus. The co-operative installed a 60kWp array at the Varley Halls last year; it was invited to ‘do it again’ and add 150kWp of community-owned panels to the Hillbrow & Robert Dodd buildings this spring.

To raise the £115k required, BEC has launched its fifth share invitation. New and existing members can invest in BEC and hold shares for up to 20 years, with 5% of capital available to be paid back each year. Beyond the financial return, members will see the environmental beneits of CO2 reduction and the social value created by community members coming together to create local renewable energy solutions.

LOOKING AHEAD

BEC director Damian Tow admits concern for energy co-ops that launched recently, as many weren’t able to become self-funding before the FiTs were slashed. ‘BEC’s reached the reassuring position of having sufficient surplus income from arrays on a higher FiT’, he tells us, ‘so there’s budget to pay a manager to administer the portfolio for the next 20 years – irrespective of plans to develop more suitable sites for PV.’

Looking ahead, Damian sees cause for optimism. ‘Having firmly applied the brakes on the renewables sector in 2016, the UK government finally seems to be getting it and supporting EVs and grid storage as part of its Industrial Strategy’, he says. ‘BEC is considering an opportunity to connect battery banks to solar arrays, and is making its first foray into EV charging by supplying electricity to the Brighton-based Big Lemon bus company’s new f leet of electric buses.’

It was an early starter, but the journey for BEC may have only just begun.

Click here for more from Brighton Energy Co-op.