A Co-operative Approach To Going Solar

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A growing  number of people are starting renewable energy schemes in their communities through co-operatives and other forms of collaboration.

A recent report from Co-operatives UK and The Co-operative Group states 43 communities are in the process of or already producing renewable energy by investing money to install solar panels, large wind turbines or hydro-electric power in their area.

£16 million has been invested by over 7,000 people in these schemes, which include a £2 million wind farm and a 98kW solar photovoltaic installation on the roof of a brewery.

The report says green economy co-operatives are the most rapidly growing part of the UK co-op sector, jumping 24% since 2008.

In addition to these co-operatives’ efforts seeing clean, renewable energy being supplied to their communities, there is also a financial return to participants through the sale of electricity produced.

The co-operative approach covered in the report basically works like this:

– A core group establishes the feasibility of a project, a process that may be assisted by a grant or the advice from other co-ops or non-profits.

– A share prospectus outlining the business plan, expected return on investment and other benefits is published and marketed locally.

– All investors become members of the co-op.

– Once sufficient funding is raised, which may also involve a bank loan, the facility is constructed.

– Members receive a return and decide how profits will be allocated.

Paul Monaghan of The Co-operative Group says the potential for a community-led clean energy revolution in the UK is huge.

“With The Co-operative Bank’s commitment to invest £1 billion in renewable energy by 2013, and our broader support for co-operative enterprise, we are ready to help realise the significant benefits that community energy can deliver for society and communities,” states Mr. Monaghan.

While these types of schemes are still relatively uncommon in Australia, a popular method of using the power of collaboration to install solar here is the solar buyers group. Consisting of people within a local area, these groups use their collective clout to secure better pricing for installing solar panels on their own rooftops.

Just south of the New South Wales border, the seaside town of Mallacoota has approximately 1,000 permanent residents. While a popular tourist destination, its relative isolation means it can often be difficult to entice trades people and services to the area.

In an initiative led by local resident Jim Sakkas, the community banded together to form a solar buyers group and since that time, close to one hundred solar power systems have been installed in Mallacoota by national solar solutions provider Energy Matters under the model.

Energy Matters says it actively encourages and supports the formation of solar buyers groups and runs free solar information sessions in areas where sufficient interest has been registered. The information sessions include tips on how households can reduce their electricity bills, how solar power works, its benefits and how to take advantage of discounts through the power of solar buyers groups.