Solar energy project makes final fundraising push

Residents at Banister House Estate. Pic: Repowering

Residents at Banister House Estate. Pic: Repowering London

Residents of Banister House Estate in Hackney are making a final push to meet their fundraising target of £142,000 to build what would be the UK’s largest community owned solar energy project on social housing.

Repowering London, a non-profit organisation who has coordinated the project with local residents, had raised over £121,000 by Saturday morning.

The fundraising campaign is set to end on Tuesday.

Agamemnon Otero, Repowering London’s chief executive officer, told Eastlondonlines they expect to meet their funding target before the deadline: “We’ll smash the goal by the 26th, absolutely!”

Otero added: “Twenty thousand pounds just came in in the last half an hour. People are interested in something like this and they know it’s a good idea.”

The project was given the go-ahead by Hackney Council in October 2014. Since then Repowering London has run a paid work experience programme for 15 young people as well as running fuel poverty initiatives, solar panel making workshops and renewable energy education courses.

According to Otero the installation will begin as soon as the funding is secured. The preparatory work has been done and the cabling laid.  “The installation is really just the final stage of this 9 month project,” he said. “The contractor is obliged to take all of our internship graduates who will be helping alongside the professional installers.”

“This isn’t just a Kickstarter campaign where you get a t-shirt and a signature, this about ownership of energy infrastructure to local people. This means local people will own their own energy generating capacity. We’ve offered shares in the energy and the panels to the people,” said Otero. Under the scheme residents can invest from as little as £50 and non-residents from £250.

However, under current government legislation any excess energy generated by the estate, which comprises of 379 homes, must be sold back to the national grid, invariably to a ‘Big Six’ energy supplier at a rate of 4.5p per unit.

Otero said: “These companies could pay us a higher rate but they choose not to and they’re not obliged to by government. [The energy], goes back on the grid and then they sell it to people for 17 – 25p per unit.”

In the run up to the General Election last month, local climate advocacy group 10:10 started a petition addressed “to the next secretary of state for energy and climate change”, now Amber Rudd, calling for a change in the current legislation so that consumers can buy directly from community renewable energy projects like Banister House.

10:10’s Alice Bell’s told ELL that she hopes the petition will benefit community projects like Banister House and similar initiatives across the country if Rudd, acts upon it when it is delivered in the coming weeks.

“Community energy is really growing, particularly in countries like Germany, but one of the reasons it’s not really taking off in the UK, although there’s a huge amount of appetite for it, are the structural problems. Effectively, you can’t keep your energy local.”

In Germany communities can buy electricity directly from local renewable energy projects, which has contributed significantly to the so-called “Energiewende” and has seen the share of renewables in the German energy sector rise to 27.3 per cent in 2014, compared with the UK’s 19.2 per cent for the same year.

Bell added: “We know that the government’s quite keen on this sort of thing. Amber Rudd has certainly signalled that’s she keen to grow more local control.”

Otero welcomed 10:10’s initiative as it something Repowering London has also been lobbying for within the Department for Energy and Climate Change. He added: “Not only would it be a great benefit to us, it would support a positive discussion with people who feel that they have been disenfranchised. These are people who are living in fuel poverty and because they’re using the prepaid meter cards, they’re paying 30% more than other people.”

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