COUNTY NEWS: ‘Fracking village’ plans for community owned solar farm

Fracking protest at Balcombe Sunday, August 18 ENGSUS00120130820075034
Fracking protest at Balcombe Sunday, August 18 ENGSUS00120130820075034

Residents of Balcombe have scaled up their ambitious plan to go 100% solar with plans for their own community-owned solar farm.

If successful, their plans would not only match the electricity demand of their village, but also that of neighbouring West Hoathly.

Renewable energy co-operative REPOWERBalcombe was set up by residents to unite around renewable, locally-owned power after the controversy over oil drilling by fracking firm Cuadrilla in 2013.

After a successful share offer earlier this year, solar rigs are soon to be installed on the roofs of two local schools.

The solar farm will be landscaped with a hedgerow perimeter that will help preserve local views. Nothing on the finished site will be more than 3m tall. Hedgerows will be managed to attract wildlife such as birds and bats, and allow mammals in to forage and hibernate. The panels will also be installed with enough room for sheep to graze underneath.

A community consultation event was held in West Hoathly Village Hall on 20th May 2015. A survey at the event showed 65.6% of people very supportive of the array, 21.9% supportive, and only 3.1% very opposed.

Joe Nixon, from REPOWERBalcombe, said: “When we first started this project, we wanted to turn our so-called ‘fracking village’ 100% solar. Some people thought it was crazy. But now it looks like we could make that target comfortably, and have some electricity to spare for our neighbours too.

The investment for our solar installations at Grange Farm and the primary schools came entirely from local people. It’s been a wonderful show of local support for community energy and I can’t wait to see it grow. It’s exciting to see a project like ours pop up at Barton Moss in Salford too – we hope they’ll be many more!”