The scheme, known as Energise Barnsley, will see solar panels installed onto approximately 5,000 council houses and council-owned buildings.

Residents and the wider community will be able to invest in Energise Barnsley, through a community share offer which is expected to give an annual return of 5%.

The town hall meeting to educate residents about the scheme happened on Thursday 27 August, the same day the Government announced proposals for sweeping cuts to the Feed-in Tariff which provides subsidy support to rooftop solar projects.

Speaking to edie, Barnsley Council’s principal asset data officer Robin Clark said he was not overly concerned about the proposed changes but added: “It has made us accelerate our delivery plan”.

He said: “We knew cuts were coming to some extent, and it doesn’t necessarily affect the social part of the project – the cheaper energy bills for example – which is a huge focus for us.”

Barnsley Council itself will make no capital investment in the project, with the £10m initial costs being shared by partners, including social investment funds Ignite and Generation Community, as well as British Gas Solar.

Councillor Jenny Platts, the cabinet spokesperson for communities, said: “It’s great news that we are leading the way for community energy schemes with the £10 million development of Energise Barnsley.

“It’s a positive step forwards in terms of reducing carbon consumption at the same time as helping some residents to save money on their energy bills and supporting community projects.”

Community power

Although the previous coalition Government made community energy a priority, a series of subsidy cuts has threatened to stifle the sector.

Scotland Energy Minister Fergus Ewing and Wales Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant recently  co-authored an open letter to Amber Rudd urging her to consider new ways to support community schemes.

Ewing said local ownership of renewable projects helped tackle challenges like grid constraints and fuel poverty, while at the same time sparking economic revival.

There are several large-scale community schemes in Scotland including a 9MW windfarm on the Isle of Lewis and solar panels on 25 publically-owned buildings across Edinburgh.

Brad Allen

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