A COMMUNITY co-operative aims to raise money to boost Edinburgh’s green energy use, writes Richard Dixon
Edinburgh may not be the sunniest place in the UK, or even in Scotland (that honour usually goes to Dunbar, 30 miles along the coast) but it is certainly sunny enough for solar energy to make sense. Last year – which was definitely not the best on record – our capital enjoyed around 1,200 hours of sun, which could generate a good amount of low-carbon electricity.
Over the past decade the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels has plummeted. At the same time their efficiency has soared, meaning they now make economic as well as ecological sense – even here on the 56th parallel.
So far though, Edinburgh has been a bit of a laggard when it comes to solar power. Lots of historic buildings and a high rate of tenement living means that installing rooftop panels is not always as straightforward as it could be.
All that is set to change. Today Gylemuir Primary School is hosting the launch of the Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative – the capital’s very own community energy project.
Over the next 12 months, the co-op (which I chair) plans to install solar panels at the school and on up to a further 24 public buildings owned by the City of Edinburgh Council.
The majority of buildings in this programme are schools, but you will also see panels going up on community and leisure centres.
And the good news is that the scheme will be wholly funded and owned by people like you and I. The co-op is looking to raise £1.4 million for the project, and today’s share offer gives Edinburgh residents the chance to be part of the scheme for £250.
Anyone in Scotland – in fact anyone in the UK – can apply to buy shares, but preference will be given to people within the Edinburgh council area. So if the offer is, as we hope, oversubscribed, Edinburgh folk will be first in line.
Every co-op member will receive a 5 per cent return on their shares, and any surplus the co-op generates will go towards a Community Benefit Fund which will support new renewable energy projects across the city. The co-op has also applied for the UK government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme which, if successful, will offer a 30 per cent tax relief on your investment.
It is – to use a rather overworked term – a real win-win.
When operational, the co-op will be the UK’s largest community-owned urban renewables scheme. The energy generated by the panels will be used on site, saving the council nearly a tonne of carbon dioxide every year provided all panels are installed as planned.
In the first five years of the project, applications for funding will be invited from the users of buildings on which panels have been installed. So the children of Gylemuir Primary – who today will be showing off their clever ideas on how this green energy could be used – will be able to benefit from the scheme in years ahead.
Of course the idea of communities taking a stake in renewable energy is not new. But the idea of doing it on this scale, in an urban setting, is transformational. The City of Edinburgh Council should be commended for its positive approach and there is no reason why towns and cities across the country could not adopt this model.
However, clouds are gathering. The climate conference in Paris later this year is unlikely to deliver meaningful targets for carbon reduction, and we now have a UK government determined to slash renewables support – in spite of strong public popularity and continually decreasing costs.
So increasingly it will be up to us as individuals and communities to take control. I’d encourage like-minded groups of people to get together and form a trust or a co-op and get a renewables project off the ground – no matter where you live.
The Scottish Government continues to offer tremendous support. They have set a target of 500 megawatts to be supplied by community renewables by 2020 and there are currently funds available to help groups assess the viability of a proposed scheme, so now is a good time for anyone with an interest to get involved.
Of course this will not be for everyone – we cannot all be activists – but if you do want to support a greener future, buying shares in the Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative is a tremendous start. It is an inspirational project, and what better way is there to bring power – quite literally – to the people of Edinburgh.
• Dr Richard Dixon is the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. To request a share offer document or to find out more, text SUNSHINE to 60777, or visit www.edinburghsolar.coop