How Britain’s first community-owned solar power station was created

“It wasn’t all plain sailing. The work load was huge.”

No 425 Posted by fw, March 3, 2012

Following is a reposting of Power to the people, a story cited in February Round-up of What’s Happening out in the World of Transition, published on March 1, 2012 by Laura Whitehead. At the end of this post is a 3-minute video featuring the launch of the community solar power station in Lewes.

Power to the People

All it takes sometimes is for one person to step forward with a BIG VISION

This is a story of how a community created its own energy company. It began with an Open Space workshop run by Transition Town Lewes mid-2007 called “How Will Lewes Power Itself (in a world without fossil fuels)?” The discussions were varied, and one focused on starting a local energy company. Howard Johns, who convened that group, had his own small solar company – Southern Solar – and, being a permaculturalist, had a big vision for our town.

Add a tendering opportunity and a dash of key players with “loads of passion”

Open Space Workshop

R> Soon after, the group learned that the local council was tendering for a service to distribute a domestic renewable energy grant scheme for devices such as solar water and wood burning stoves. They put in the bid – and won. Ovesco – the Ouse Valley Energy Services Company – was born. One of the directors – Chris Rowland – was willing to manage the non-profit company, for a part time salary and four others became directors. The key players – an engineer, a company CEO, a composer, a university lecturer – had no previous experience of running a local Esco – few people did – but loads of passion for it.

Huge getting-started workload – installing devices, providing advice, awareness-raising and more

For the next three years Ovesco’s main line of work was distributing these grants. To date they’ve installed over 200 energy generating devices. Ovesco has also, funded by the council, given free insulation advice and signposting for insulation for grants to over 1,000 people across the district. During this time, Ovesco directors also ran three Energy Fairs in the local precinct, with suppliers and talks, and helped TTL’s energy group run three Eco Open House weekends, showcasing energy savings in a range of real homes. There have been many invitations to talks, conferences and events and opportunities to try the energy bike invented by director Nick Rouse.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. The work load was huge, grant funding was changeable and Chris was doing a lot of work for free. But it meant he didn’t have to commute and said he was glad to have given up his commuting job and be living and working locally.

Rush to get Solar PV installed before government feed-in-tariff subsidy offer expired

Eco Open House

A couple of years ago, when the government introduced the feed-in-tariffs that offered subsidies for solar photovotaics (PV), Ovesco started to work up the case for a large solar array in town. Surveys showed the biggest roof belonged to the warehouse of our local brewer, Harveys. After much measuring and negotiation, Ovesco was ready to raise the money. But suddenly the government announced it was cutting short the offer and that solar installations would have to be up and running within three months. It was a stretch but the directors decided to go ahead and book the Town Hall. The only slot was a month ahead and they had to create prospectuses, get agreements from the financial and legal bodies and start to make the case to the community. Bear in mind, this was totally new territory for everyone. Liz Mandeville, the university lecturer, wrote the prospectus meticulously. This was a 25-year financial project; nobody wanted to let down our community.

Success — Britain’s first community-owned solar power station

As it was, Ovesco raised much more than the £306,000 required – within three weeks (about a quarter had been pledged before the launch event) and despite all sorts of fears, the 585 panel, 98 KwH roof went up just in time to meet the government deadline. We called it Britain’s first community-owned solar power station and we had a good party to celebrate.

Setback — government once again decided to cut short the feed-in-tariffs

Ovesco immediately began feasibility studies for three more major projects – two on schools and one on a community centre. But just as it was ready to launch another share offer, the government once again decided to cut short the feed-in-tariffs, effectively cutting Ovesco – and so many other community power stations – off at the legs. At the moment all those projects are in limbo while the legal process continues. This lack of government commitment to renewable has been a massive problem for Ovesco and many other pioneers – and I’ve felt quite shocked at the way this has been handled.

Two big challenges going forward – One, dependence on grant funding, and

Meanwhile, Ovesco has finally, after many years of seeking national funding and attending pointless conferences run by quangos – sorry – government-run agencies — been given funding through the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s Leaf grant stream, for a feasibility study for a combined heat and power and solar power project in Lewes. This funding will keep the show on the road for another few months.

Two, pressure from BIG ENERGyY to squeeze out small local companies

Directors on solar roof

The main challenge for Ovesco has been that it has always been dependent on grant funding. At present, there is not yet an obvious business case for funding community-run energy companies. It seems that grid parity for solar PV is only about two years away, though, at which point, Ovesco could start to compete with national companies on solar projects (depending on what goal posts are changed by then). Perhaps this is why the government has been under so much pressure from the big energy companies to curtail the success of small and community energy companies. Fossil fuels and nuclear power are subsidized by central government at a massively higher rate than are renewables, despite what tabloid press has to say. It’s all about power and who owns it.

Never-give-up spirit of ordinary people

But despite the government’s determination to maintain centralized control over provision of our energy supplies, there is much we can begin to do, now, as ordinary people, as the story of Ovesco so vibrantly shows.


If you want to start your own community energy company, have a look at Ovesco’s useful toolkit here.

Photo credits: Open Space closing circle (Adrienne), Eco Open House event (Dirk Campbell), Ovesco directors with Harveys director on solar roof (Hudoq)


  • Uploaded by OVESCOIPS on Apr 27, 2011. Launch of OVESCO community solar power station in Lewes at Harveys’ brewery.
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Small Ontario community leads the way to goal of carbon neutrality – Way To Go Eden Mills!

No 345 Posted by fw, November 25, 2011

Eden Mills summer day in the park

Just over four years ago, on November 7, 2007, Eden Mills, a small Ontario village about an hour’s drive west of Toronto, launched an ambitious goal to become the first village in North America to achieve carbon neutrality. “We are engaging in a grassroots initiative to tackle the urgent issue of a warming planet. We want our children and grandchildren to know that we not only cared but tried to do something.” 

On Tuesday of this week, November 22, Eden Mills announced in a media release that the community has been awarded an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant of $120,000 and an incentive loan from the Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures Development Corporation of $50,000. Details regarding how the money will be used on the road to carbon neutrality are provided in a copy of the media release, posted below.

But first, here’s a charming 90-second promotional video, Eden Mills Going Carbon Neutral Initiative.

Media Release

Eden Mills takes major new steps towards carbon neutrality with Trillium Grant and Wellington-Waterloo Futures Loan

Eden Mills, November 22, 2011…

The Eden Mills Millpond Conservation Association and Eden Mills Community and District Club are proud to announce that they have been awarded an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant in the amount of $120,000, and a $50,000 incentive loan from the Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures Development Corporation.

This important support for Eden Mills Going Carbon Neutral’s next major projects will contribute to the significant reduction in the Community Hall’s carbon footprint, the installation of sustainable-energy-producing solar panels, and improve accessibility.  The Going Carbon Neutral project operates under the umbrella of the Millpond Association, and in association with the Community Club.

Following the village’s “Going Carbon Neutral” Launch in 2007, a comprehensive energy audit of the Hall was undertaken.  This professional service was donated by resident and award-winning engineer Richard Lay and his company, Enermodal Engineering based in Kitchener. The report not only described the 80-year-old Hall’s air leaks, energy-use excesses and outdated systems, it also recommended and prioritized the changes necessary to reduce the carbon footprint of the building by defining and sealing the building envelope, by insulating the ceiling and walls, and by investing in new, sustainable energy sources.

These combined reductions in energy use would sufficiently reduce operating costs to keep the Hall operational as fuel costs continue to rise over the next decades.  In fact, if all the changes were implemented, they would reduce the Hall’s carbon footprint by 90%.  Without these changes and subsequent financial savings, the future of the Hall, managed and funded through community volunteer and fund-raising activities and rentals, would be in doubt.

This report was the basis for the Millpond Association’s submission to the Trillium Foundation. The funding awarded will begin by reducing energy use through the retro-fit, starting with insulating the walls and ceiling, and replacing the old windows.

The plans addressing the replacement of fossil fuel energy include the installation of solar panels under Ontario’s microFIT Program.  The Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures Development Corporation is generously supporting this initiative with the loan of $50,000 under very practical terms.  The 5 kW PV panels will produce enough energy to cover the purchase and installation costs over the first 10 years and to provide operating income over the second 10 years, based on the rates guaranteed in the 20-year contract with the Ontario Power Authority.

For more information, visit the Eden Mills Going Carbon Neutral website.

Burlington’s solar energy co-op offers residents investment opportunity

No 90 Posted by fw, November 22, 2010

Seizing the opportunity created by Ontario’s new Green Energy Act AllianceBurlingtonGreen Environmental Association has created BrightSky Power Community Solar Co-operative, a community solar energy initiative. For its inaugural project, BrightSky is developing a solar powered installation on a local rooftop. All Burlingtonians will have the opportunity to directly invest in the project by becoming a member of the BrightSky Power Community Solar Co-operative and purchasing a share or bond.

This community power project will allow people, who may not own property suitable for solar panels or do not have the available funds to buy their own solar system, to participate in Ontario’s new green economy. By offering residents the opportunity to invest in the project, BrightSky is enabling all Burlingtonians to earn income from solar energy and keeping your energy dollar in our local economy! The project will serve as a demonstration to all Burlingtonians of the opportunity to make Burlington a leader in sustainable energy as well as showing the success of community participation.

BrightSky Power’s solar installation will be contracted to sell energy through the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program. The FIT program pays fair, stable and long-term rates for power generated from renewable energy installations. To cover development stage costs, BurlingtonGreen has secured a grant from the Community Energy Partnerships Program.

BrightSky Power is currently negotiating lease agreements with a selection of local building owners, developing its co-operative business plan and preparing the application for a FIT contract. The solar installation’s in-service date is currently projected for the 4th quarter of 2011. Once the project is in service and generating revenue from energy sales, BrightSky will dedicate a portion of its earnings towards developing further community solar projects in the Burlington area for 2012.