Local energy community benefit society, Chester Community Energy, is gearing up to install two further solar PV installations after a successful share offer. The target cost of £120,000 was raised last November by members of the public supporting solar PV projects for their environmental value and as a longer term investment. The shares pay interest at 4%. The society now has 90 members who each have an equal vote and say in how the energy business develops. The business itself is run by its directors who are volunteers managing all aspects of the business. The business was set up 3 years ago to exploit the opportunities in generating power locally from renewable sources.
The planned projects are on the roofs of leisure centres at Christleton and Neston, both owned by Cheshire West and Chester council and operated by Brio Leisure. The leisure centres are heavy users of electricity and all the power generated by the PV panels can be used on-site. This saves the leisure centre money, as the power purchased from the cooperative is significantly lower than the grid price and it gives the society a guaranteed income stream for 11 years, subject to legal conditions. The projects will also receive payments from the last of the Feed in Tariff subsidy for renewable energy generation. Depending on the vagaries of the British weather, the 2 projects will provide an income of about £14,000 a year with low running costs. Any surplus is used to finance future projects and to contribute to the community benefit fund, offered annually to local voluntary groups and charities to improve the energy efficiency of their premises. This year’s fund of £3,000 is about to be awarded to one or more of the shortlisted applications from The Hospice of the Good Shepherd in Backford, Grozone Community Garden in Northwich and Stanney Grange Community Centre in Ellesmere Port.
The projects have been managed by Stephen Savory, a retired architect who lives in Handbridge. Stephen said “Nearly all the project management work has been completed and we are just waiting for the legal documents to be signed off With CWAC and Brio Leisure. Everything else is ready for the installations which will be carried out by Genfit, a specialist renewable energy business based in Chester. All the various parties to the projects have worked well together and made it possible for 2 more micro-generation schemes to be built. If we are to achieve the carbon reduction targets set by government, it is vital that small scale renewable energy plays its part and that community energy in particular is supported by local and central government”.
The raised share capital will also be used to finance the installation of LED lighting in community buildings in West Cheshire. The revenue costs for this scheme have been provided by a grant from charity Power to Change and are to be used to test the financial viability of changing outdated lighting in community buildings for LED lights, with savings in power by at least 50%. The business model is a type of credit arrangement in which the society provides the finance and installs the new lighting and the customer pays back the money from the savings in its electricity bill over a number of years. The scheme is into its 7th month and the sticking point so far is the obtaining of a consumer credit licence from the Financial Conduct Authority. Local community buildings in Saughall, Upton and Guilden Sutton are interested in the project and are considering signing up to the scheme.
The society is always looking for more help in running the business. In particular it needs skills in digital technology, marketing, media and electrical engineering. For more details look up their website at www.chestercommunityenergy.org.uk. and contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org