Wadebridge moves closer to becoming UK’s first solar town

Solar Power Portal   
May 23rd, 2011

Solar Panels

Credit: Abi Skipp / Flickr

Wadebridge in Cornwall has moved another step towards becoming the first solar powered town in the UK, as PV installations begin to go up across the municipality. The area aims to generate at least a third of its electricity from solar and wind power by 2015, which is the equivalent of 15,000MWh a year. By generating renewable energy at this level, Wadebridge will be able to benefit significantly from the UK’s feed-in tariff, enabling significant cash contributions for local community projects.

Driving the solar revolution, the Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN) – a not-for-profit co-operative – is putting thousands of panels on the roofs of local homes, schools and businesses, allowing them to use the clean electricity, and collect the feed-in tariff for their community fund.

WREN aims to have a total of 1MW of installations across Wadebridge’s buildings by 2012 and 7MW by 2015. Anyone from the town can join the co-operative and therefore have a say in how and where the money is spent.

The Network has also launched a ‘Solar Club,’ offering building owners very competitive rates on solar PV by pooling purchases. Those who do not want to pay for the up-front cost will benefit from systems owned by the ethical bank Triodos – which will reinvest the feed-in tariff income in other renewables projects and ethical, sustainable business opportunities.

Stephen Frankel Founder of WREN said, “We have just installed our first ten solar systems, the first of what we believe will be well over a hundred in the town. The response has been overwhelming now that people see solar actually starting to go in. Our motivation is to become more self-sufficient due to the rising price of fossil fuel and our concern for our environment. Our town has great irradiance levels so we knew we had an opportunity with solar to generate a local, low carbon income stream, and be a model for the rest of the UK.”

“Now the feed-in tariff is here, we could turn that dream into a reality with the finance generated. However we do need to use as much space as possible to meet our needs, the Governments proposals to limit the feed-in tariff to 50kWp means we can’t go ahead with our larger projects which would bring much needed income into our community fund. The problem with PV arrays is not their size, but who receives the benefits. It makes no sense that the Government wants to pull the plug on communities that seek to generate meaningful amounts of energy.

We urge the Government to listen to the WREN and We Support Solar campaign, and think again as we’re unlikely to bring the full benefit we want to the community without larger projects,” continued Frankel.

Alongside these initiatives, WREN has also created a solar allotment scheme in union with local company e-tricity, enabling members to own shares in larger projects.

However in order for this allotment scheme to go ahead, the Government needs to get behind it. Due to proposed changes to the feed-in tariff, which make significant cuts to the subsidy rates for PV systems larger than 50kW, initiatives such as this are on hold.

If able to go ahead, the solar allotment scheme would produce electricity for a quarter of the town’s domestic needs and an estimated £2.5 million over 25 years for the community fund. This capital can then be spent on fuel poverty alleviation, funding energy efficiency measures and for financing more renewable projects around the town. Shares in the solar allotment would also be offered to individuals in the area.

Tony Faragher of WREN said, “There is a lot of talk about localism and the Big Society, but it can all seem rather vague. Here we are showing what it might mean – reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, becoming more economically resilient, and collaborating for the good of our community. One big problem we have in Cornwall is that so many people have to go away to find well-paid work. WREN is designed to help bring us all the benefits of the low carbon economy, including careers for our kids.”

Systems are currently being installed by Cornish solar firm Plug into the Sun and designed and supplied by solar energy company Solarcentury.

You can watch Part One of the Wadebridge film below.

This story originally appeared at Solar Power Portal.

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