By Jake Barnes, ARTS Brighton Researcher This short blog proposes…
Balcombe, a village in West Sussex around with a population of just less than 2000 – just 20 miles from Brighton, is set to become the first entirely solar-powered village in the UK.
The social enterprise REPOWERBalcombe has gained unanimous permission from planning officials for a large scale solar park that will provide 5MW of electricity. This will power the 760 homes in Balcombe, and around 500 homes in the neighbouring village of West Hoathly.
With planning approval granted, REPOWERBalcombe is seeking £5 Million in investment from local residents to fund the solar farm. With a 5% rate of return on investment, the plan looks to recuperate all investors’ money within 20 years making it a financially and environmentally sound investment for many of the residents of the village.
Balcombe is described by REPOWERBalcome as a “reluctant poster child for the UK’s energy debate”, after it hit national headlines in 2013 when drilling company Cuadrilla tried to frack in the area, only to be greeted with mass protest by residents. Fracking is a controversial oil extraction method that the government bills as part of the UK’s future of energy independence. Opponents argue that there are significant negative environmental impacts that result from fracking, which include risks of ground and surface water contamination, air and noise pollution.
Local residents protesting against fracking in 2013 were joined by national campaigners and activists united around the village – calumniating in the arrest of Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas. She was later found not guilty of the wilful obstruction of a public highway and breaching an order under section 14 of the Public Order Act.
Cuadrilla abandoned their fracking efforts, and the residents have been working towards solar power since. The village is currently 10% powered by solar, thanks to previous community investments by REPOWERBalcome members.
The Solar Park will use farm ground that required expensive pesticides to become useable, and 97% of ground will still be open for grazing, and biodiversity will be encouraged on the site.
REPOWERBaclombe hope that public investment and crowd sourcing at backbalcombe.org will enable the success of the scheme.
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