Schools in Sussex’s ‘fracking village’ go solar

Two schools in the West Sussex village of Balcombe are getting solar PV panels as part of a community energy project.

The village hit the national headlines in 2013 after protestors demonstrated against test drilling for fracking in the area.

Following the demonstrations, the REPOWER Balcombe group was formed, which aims to provide all the villages electricity through renewable energy.

The group has brought more than 50 local investors together to fund the solar installations at Balcombe Primary School, which started today (19 August)

On Monday (24 August), solar panels will also be installed at Turners Hill School, a little over four miles to the North East of the village. 

Weather permitting, they hope to have the installations completed by the end of the week, with everything plugged in and ready for the start of the new school year. 

The installations on the two schools follow a successful pilot in late 2014, when 69 panels were installed on a cowshed at nearby Grange Farm, and looks forward to the village’s larger goal of a 5MW solar farm at Chiddinglye Farm, West Hoathly. 

If successful, the final project will not only match the electricity demand of Balcombe, but that of the nearby village of West Hoathly too. 

Inspired by Balcombe’s fracking-to-solar story, a similar group, Moss Community Energy, has been set up in Barton Moss, near Salford. 

"It's heartening to see Repower Balcombe installing solar at the school today, right in the heart of the village,” said Millie Darling, Campaign Project Manager at 10:10.

“Between cuts to renewables and the idea of fast-tracking fracking planning decisions, it's a tricky time for community renewables, but projects like Repower Balcombe help remind us why it's so worthwhile. Lots of communities want to do community energy projects like Repower Balcombe because of the numerous benefits these projects bring - the government should be working to make it easier for these communities rather than harder."

Joe Nixon, spokesman for REPOWERBalcombe, added: "We are very happy to get solar panels up on Balcombe and Turners Hill primary schools. The local kids returning from summer holidays will learn how solar energy works and attend lessons powered by the sun. We are also excited about our plans for Chiddinglye Farm for a 5MW solar farm that will provide more clean energy to our community in sunny Sussex.”

Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, specializing in local government, transport and energy issues