Since Repowering began working with the Loughborough Estate community in 2011 to develop the UK’s first inner-city, co-operatively-owned solar energy project on a social housing estate, community-owned solar energy in Brixton seems to have gone from strength to strength.
A mere seven months after this first pioneering project, Brixton Energy Solar 2 (or BES2 as it is known for short) had been installed and began generating clean electricity. A third project (BES3) went live in September 2013. Total energy generation to date has measured in excess of 134,000kWh. And through the community-led approach to achieving all of this, these projects benefit local residents directly, providing paid internship opportunities for young people, energy saving workshops and home energy efficiency improvements.
Repowering is now well underway with plans to introduce community-owned solar energy (and all of the above benefits) to more communities across London. It is pleasing to see support for these ideas spread from community to community, as well as gaining recognition from government too.
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has a mandate which ranges from ensuring that libraries can meet the needs of their communities to guiding neighbourhoods on how to go about organizing their own street parties. The department also happens to have been a long-time supporter of the great work done by Repowering to bring affordable renewable energy to the Loughborough Estate.
Stephen Williams, Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and his team from the DCLG recently came to see the community-owned solar installations of Loughborough one Tuesday afternoon. Joined by project directors, community shareholders and other local residents of all ages on the rooftop of Woolley House, the minister was very interested to hear each person’s perspective on the projects.
The sense of pride and ownership that people attach to the solar projects became immediately clear. Kemal, who invested in the first Roupell solar scheme when he was 19 and has since completed an internship with Repowering, spoke about the attraction of helping to grow the renewables sector in this area whilst making a business-minded investment in the process. Faye, who lives in the Loughborough Estate and is an Investor in Brixton Energy Solar 2, remarked that the traditional energy companies simply don’t offer the control over energy security the way that these local energy cooperatives do.
Director Agamemnon Otero pointed out Elmore House, Styles Gardens and Roupell Park Estate dotted around us, whilst describing the positive changes that the solar installations on these buildings have brought to the Loughborough Estate community since 2011. “Not only do they provide clean energy to power the homes on the estate affordably, but they also deliver financial returns to the community shareholders”. Some 20% of the money is also fed in to a dedicated Community Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF), which gives residents of the estate greater power to decide how best to tackle everyday energy challenges themselves.
The minister of Welsh descent, who frequently works with communities to find low-carbon housing and energy solutions, was intrigued by Fay Gordon’s studies at the Center for Alternative Technology in 1970 and Althea’s (Loughborough resident and Investor in Solar 2) interest in housing co-ops. The local residents’ knowledge spurred him to enquire about how more community energy co-operatives could be facilitated, especially in light of upcoming legislative and tax relief changes to the rules surrounding these co-operatives.
The ensuing discussions highlighted some really exciting opportunities for growth of community energy. Loughborough Estate is a great example of community energy in action.