Our story is not a simple one.
It is a story of ups and downs, success and failure, tragedy and steady progress.
What we are trying to do has not been done before.
In 2013, we heard that developers wanted to build a solar farm in our community in Berwick, Sussex, near the railway line between Lewes and Eastbourne.
Some local people opposed the idea, but others were in favour – an opportunity to play a part in creating one of the solutions to climate change.
We worked with the developers and helped them to achieve planning consent.
In return, they promised to help us plan and achieve consent for a community-owned solar farm of our own.
And they did.
In 2016, we faced tragedy with the death of Alister’s wife Sarah.
Nevertheless we persisted and in 2017, we achieved planning consent to build a 4MW solar farm – enough to power about 800 average UK homes.
Then changes in government policy took away most of the support for community renewable energy. So we had to think again.
If we simply sold our power into the grid as a commodity, the price wouldn’t make the project viable. How could we increase our income? Whilst the costs of building solar farms have been coming down rapidly in recent years, it still wasn’t enough.
Then our friend Ollie Pendered, the local founder of Community Energy South, told us about a new idea – to sell solar energy from community solar farms to the railway. He was one of the founders of a new venture called Riding Sunbeams and invited us to be involved.
This appealed to us as we could see the need for community energy in the UK to find a new, more financially viable way forward. We could sell our power to Network Rail that was cheaper and cleaner than their existing suppliers but still achieve a higher price than selling it to the grid as a commodity – a true win-win-win for them, us and the climate. Perhaps this was our way to help create an inspiring, viable and scalable model for community energy that others could follow.
Since then, Riding Sunbeams have been working with Network Rail and government agencies to prove that this idea is feasible – technically, legally and financially. In 2018, they received a substantial First-of-a-Kind grant from Innovate UK to work with Network Rail to overcome the inevitable technical and legal challenges
Fast forward to 2019 and we were making good progress, but we needed to start work on the project to keep our planning consent open. To do so, we raised £50,000 from 10 Angel Investors and commenced the project in early 2020.
Then in November 2020, Riding Sunbeams won a substantial grant from the government’s covid-recovery Getting Building Fund.
This has given us the boost we need to complete the project – and this is where we are as of early 2021. There are many rivers still to cross but, given the challenges that we have already overcome, it feels possible – see our News section for updates.
However, we will need your support, skills and energy to make the most of this opportunity so please sign up here to keep in touch. Big change is always easier to achieve when there is a great team making it happen.
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