Burnside Community Energy is an inspiring example of the potential synergy between a large public limited company (the paper mill James Cropper PLC) and the local community (Burneside, just north of Kendal, population approx 1000). Both were brought together by a joint vision to reduce carbon emissions and to secure a sustainable source of income to enable further energy-related projects which benefit residents.
James Cropper PLC offered a 20-year lease and agreement to buy all of the energy generated by BCE. Members raised nearly £800,000 in 3 share offer phases, the 3rd phase demonstrating that even post Feed In Tariff, the financial viability of solar PV is possible. BCE aims to pay 4.7% per annum in interest.
BCE has never sought any public funding for its solar PV projects. Excellent resources and inspiration has been found on Community Energy England's website and through its officers.
Not only has the project seen significant carbon savings made, it has also led to further community cohesion and benefits. Nearly 1MW of solar PV installed over three phases is now saving nearly 300 tonnes of carbon each year. Surplus income has been used to help decarbonise the local primary school, whilst other funds have been used to run a Bike4Burneside cycling festival. What's more, BCE is broadening horizons beyond the original solar project, and has further initiatives in the pipeline. Upcoming projects include supporting the village allotment society and to run a thermal imaging and home energy improvement project throughout the community in 2022.
BCE has also carried out research into installing a district heat network throughout the village and more recently it has undertaken a huge project to investigate whether new residential development planned for the village could use community energy to heat and power all of the new low-carbon homes. This research is publicly available on request. Funding has been gratefully received from Electricity North West, the Rural Community Energy Fund and Power to Change. Most recently, a small grant from South Lakeland District Council has enabled BCE to run some low-carbon community projects, engaging with residents on cycling and home energy programmes.
Burneside Community Energy (BCE) emerged from a Parish Plan in 2015 - The Vision - in which 'energy' was a topic of ambitious focus for the village.
Three people set up a community benefit society - Tony Hill (long-term resident and Parish Councillor) Phil Davies (who had recently set up Community Energy Cumbria) and Mark Cropper (wearing many hats, including resident, renewables specialist and with links to James Cropper PLC).
Perhaps the key components throughout BCE's development have been an 'agile' approach to decision making by the BCE Board, the nurturing of a trusted relationship between BCE and James Cropper PLC and the willingness of the volunteer board to commit whatever hours were needed to carry out the necessary project management. Ranging from business planning, to submitting planning applications, drawing up share offers, raising capital, contracting installers and commissioning the systems.
Trouble-shooting was initially required to address the PV system when it tripped on multiple occasions, reports have been written for members and for the Financial Conduct Authority, share interest payments have been made, our website has been developed and community benefit funds distributed.
The project has been very much like running a business, and with nearly £800,000 of members' investment, it comes with considerable responsibility. We have a paid part time administrator, without whom we would certainly struggle.
Whilst the Parish Vision provided the community's mandate for the initiative, there is far more that BCE plans to do with and for the community. Whilst BCE has over 150 local members and has supported the village school with solar PV panels (£21k worth), led a Bike4Burneside project and has donated funds locally, BCE's focus is now clearly on spreading awareness and the benefits of BCE much wider to every household in the community, including a home energy project planned for autumn 2021/2022.
Number of members of Burneside Community Energy.
Number of households in Burneside helped through energy efficiency advice and measures.