The 'fracking village' building a solar-powered future

When the children of Holy Trinity primary, Cuckfield, returned to their classrooms from half term holiday, their lessons were powered by solar.

The panels are owned by local folk who bought shares in clean power. They’re investing in the future of the pupils at the school, and edging us all a step closer to the low-carbon future we need.

The community energy group behind it is Repower Balcombe - their ninth solar installation!

The story of solar-powered-Balcombe didn’t start quite so rosey. It all began in 2013 when fracking drills rolled into town. Protesters, riot police and the world’s media quickly followed.

They sent the frackers packing, but left behind a deeply divided village.

They needed energy, of course. But the villagers wanted to choose it - and own it - themselves.

Enter Repower Balcombe - a community energy co-op determined to fill the village with locally owned renewable energy.

They started by putting solar on a couple of local schools and a cowshed. But they dreamed of a community owned solar farm, and were getting ready to make it happen in the autumn of 2015. Then the rug was pulled from under them.

 Photo: Oliver Rudkin

Photo: Oliver Rudkin

The government dramatically cut support for renewable energy and all of a sudden local energy groups were treading water. Balcombe’s solar farm plan was sunk and they scrambled to get the last few panels up on another school before the deadline hit.

And then came the final twist in the tale. In January 2018, the council gave fracking company Cuadrilla permission to return to Balcombe and hunt for oil.

Game over? Not yet.

Repower Balcombe headed back to the drawing board. They worked out installing community solar was still possible - even if the government’s support changes make it a whole lot harder. After all they’d been through they weren’t about to give up on their solar plans.

Fracking remains just as controversial now as it was back in 2013. But whereas the frackers haven’t generated any energy in Balcombe yet, Repower Balcombe have just plugged in their ninth solar installation.

They’re building the energy future we need. One roof at a time.


Photos: Repower Balcombe