The Community Energy group was initiated in March 2015 when it became clear through a poll  that the majority of members were interested in investigating the government Feed in Tariff (FIT) scheme that would finance the installation of solar pv panels on the roofs of buildings in Chester. A small but enthusiastic sub-group was formed and worked together for the rest of 2015, putting in place the various elements to install pv panels on a building in Chester and apply for FIT payments.

A working relationship was established with Cheshire West and Chester borough council (CWAC) and it became clear that they council would give their support in finding suitable host roofs on one of their buildings. An application was made to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) with the help of Coop UK to incorporate as a Community Benefit Society (Bencom), an essential measure to establish a legal social enterprise structure in order to apply for finance, raise funds through a share offer and enter into legal agreements with various bodies. The application was approved in January 2016 and Chester Community Energy Ltd (CCEL) became  incorporated as a Bencom under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. There were three founder members who formed the board of directors, and a company secretary.

CCEL made a successful application to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for a grant to conduct a feasibility study for a solar pv installation on a public building in Chester. The application was approved in January 2016 and a specialist consultant engaged to manage the feasibility study. The outcome of this study was successfully concluded in May 2016. The CCEL website was also established at this time.

The aims of the society are to develop and facilitate renewable energy sources for the benefit of the community of Chester and surrounding area, to help to reduce the community’s carbon footprint and secure a more sustainable future source of electricity.  It also aims to promote environmental awareness, energy efficiency, conservation and reduction and to become a sustainable, self-funding business.

The first project identified by CCEL was to install a 50 KWp solar pv system on the roof of the Northgate Arena leisure centre in Chester, in partnership with CWAC. The building uses electrical power during the day and throughout the year. It is an ideal host for a solar PV project which generates power co-incidentally with electricity demand at the site. A structural survey of the existing roof revealed that the waterproof membrane had to be renewed before the solar panels could be installed. This work was carried out during August and September 2016.

The installation of the pv panels and associated electrical systems were completed in September 2016. During the first year the panels have  generated electricity as predicted by the performance data from the inverter manufacturer and income from generation has been in line with the financial forecasts. CCEL has investigated several potential projects for 2017 and these are currently being considered by the directors.

LATEST COMMUNITY ENERGY NEWS

Although the pace of community energy projects has slowed down since the cuts in the FIT’s rates, there are still many community enterprises determined to move forward and complete their projects. We for one in Chester are working hard to make the first solar pv scheme a reality. Below you will find links to other local and regional schemes that are determined to succeed and are looking for support, particularly financial support.

The reality of having solar power to ease electricity bills at the Northgate Arena Leisure Centre takes another decisive step this month (July 2016). A share offer scheme is open to the public for the month of July to raise the £60,000 to install 200 solar panels on the roof of the leisure centre. Working with partner CWAC, Chester Community Energy is near to realising the project which will eventually have a capacity of 100 KW of power to ease the high costs of electricity at the leisure centre. Although there are still a couple of hurdles to get over, not least being raising the required funds, CCE is confident that their first project will be installed by the end of September. If you would like to support this community based initiative, which benefits the environment, members and the local community, please consider becoming a member of CCE by buying a share or shares. More details can be found at www.chestercommunityenergy.org.uk/